Category Archives: Book of Mormon

Lehi’s people

What was the ethnic background of Lehi, the ancestor of the Nephite and Lamanite people in the Book of Mormon? Whether you regard Lehi as a historical figure or as a fictional character invented by Joseph Smith, there ought to be an answer to that question.

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In one sense, the question is easy to answer. Alma 10:3 explicitly states that “Lehi, who came out of the land of Jerusalem, … was a descendant of Manasseh, who was the son of Joseph who was sold into Egypt by the hands of his brethren.”

From this we might assume that Lehi, a descendant of Manasseh who had nevertheless “dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days” (1 Nephi 1:4), was descended from those Manassites who, together with members of the tribes* of Ephraim and Simeon, fled from the Northern Kingdom to Jerusalem during the reign of Asa, as described in 2 Chronicles 15.

The strange thing, though, is that Lehi apparently didn’t know he was a descendant of Manasseh. He found this out only after he had left Jerusalem. Having obtained the brass plates from Laban, “Lehi, also found upon the plates of brass a genealogy of his fathers; wherefore he knew that he was a descendant of Joseph, yea, even that Joseph who was the son of Jacob, who was sold into Egypt . . . And thus my father, Lehi, did discover the genealogy of his fathers. And Laban was also a descendant of Joseph, wherefore he and his fathers had kept records” (1 Ne 5:14, 16).

So, leaving aside the actual facts of his ancestry, which were unknown to him, what did Lehi think he was? What ethnicity did he identify with culturally and in practice?

The most obvious guess would be that Lehi thought of himself as a member of the tribe of Judah — as a “Jew,” to use a somewhat anachronistic term. During the 300 or so years separating the time of Lehi from the immigration of his Manassite ancestors into Jerusalem, it seems likely that the Northern immigrants would have become completely assimilated into Judah and lost their distinct tribal identities. Certainly Manasseh was already considered a “lost tribe” by the time of Lehi.

However, there are certain suggestions in the early chapters of the book (prior to the discovery of Lehi’s Manassite ancestry) that Lehi and his family did not self-identify as Jews. Lehi’s son Nephi, referring to his rebellious brothers Laman and Lemuel, says that they “were like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem, who sought to take away the life of my father” (1 Nephi 2:13). And in the next chapter, as Lehi explains the plan to obtain the brass plates, he says, “Laban hath a record of the Jews and also a genealogy of my forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass” (1 Nephi 3:3). There is more than one way to interpret such passages, but in my opinion the most natural reading is one which implies a distinction between Lehi’s family on the one hand and “the Jews” on the other.

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Another possibility which suggests itself is that Lehi was of Egyptian extraction and that, while he lived in Jerusalem and worshiped the Hebrew God, he did not know that he himself had Hebrew blood. It seems probable that some of the Israelites might have “gone native” while in Egypt and have been left behind by the Exodus — and this would have been especially natural for descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh, who were half-Egyptian by blood and could thus have “passed” more readily among the indigenous population.

When Nephi reports the discovery of their genealogy on the brass plates, he never mentions which tribe they belong to, saying simply “it sufficeth me to say that we are descendants of Joseph” (1 Nephi 6:2). Manasseh is only mentioned much later, in passing, by one of Nephi’s distant descendants. But while he displays a rather un-Israelite lack of interest in tribal affiliation, Nephi does make a point of mentioning that his ancestor was “that Joseph who was the son of Jacob, who was sold into Egypt” (1 Nephi 5:14). This emphasis is more consistent with an Egyptian discovering his Hebrew roots than with an Israelite learning that he belonged to a different tribe than he had supposed.

We also know that Lehi spoke and wrote Egyptian as well as Hebrew. Nephi says that his father’s language “consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 1:2). A thousand years after Lehi, his descendants were still using both Egyptian and Hebrew, though in modified form (Mormon 9:32-33). Laban seems also to have had the learning of the Jews via the language of the Egyptians; his brass plates, which contained parts of the Old Testament, were written in Egyptian characters (see Mosiah 1:3-4).

Against this Egyptian hypothesis, though, we have the following words of Nephi to his brothers, spoken before they had obtained the brass plates and discovered their Josephite ancestry: “Moses . . . spake unto the waters of the Red Sea and they divided hither and thither, and our fathers came through . . . the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 4:2-3). It’s hard to reconcile such language with the hypothesis that Nephi was himself an Egyptian.

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To summarize the data to be explained:

  • Prior to receiving the brass plates, Lehi apparently knew he was an Israelite but did not know to which tribe he belonged. In the Exodus story, the Hebrews, not the Egyptians, were his “fathers.”
  • However, he seems not to have considered himself a “Jew.” (Laban’s servant also speaks of “the Jews” as if he were not one of them.)
  • Although he did not know his own ancestry, he knew that his kinsman Laban knew. (Was their family history some kind of secret to which Laban was privy but Lehi was not? Why?)
  • Even after learning that he was of the tribe of Manasseh, Lehi seems not to have been interested in this specific tribal identity so much as in his status as a descendant of Joseph.
  • Egyptian was apparently the main language of both Lehi and Laban, although they also spoke Hebrew (see Mormon 9:33). The fact that Laban’s copy of the writings of Isaiah and other Hebrew prophets was an Egyptian translation is strong evidence that he was more comfortable with Egyptian than Hebrew.

My own best guess would be that Lehi was an Egyptian, but that there was an unsubstantiated family tradition that they were actually of Hebrew blood. (In this he would be similar to the many modern-day Mormons who believe, without direct genealogical evidence, that they are descendants of Ephraim.) What he read on the brass plates was not so much a revelation as a confirmation of what he had already suspected. Why this confirmation was a secret kept by Laban is anyone’s guess.

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* WordPress’s PC spellchecker suggests that “the ethnic groups of Ephraim and Simeon” would be more sensitive.

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Behold, I say unto you, Nay.

Motivated in part by my correspondence with Bruce Charlton, who holds the book in high esteem, I recently reread the entire Book of Mormon for the first time in about 12 years. Where my past readings of the book had always been slow and drawn-out, a chapter or two a day, this time I read the whole thing in two weeks — and did most of that reading in two (non-consecutive) days, during two long flights between Taiwan and the United States.

Reading the whole book in such a short period of time, you naturally notice things you wouldn’t otherwise about the structure and unity of the book as a whole. One little thing that caught my attention this time was a rhetorical device which is virtually absent from the Bible but which appears again and again throughout the Book of Mormon: rhetorical yes/no questions which the speaker or writer answers himself with “(Behold,) I say unto you, Yea/Nay.”

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Given how closely the diction of the Book of Mormon is patterned after that of the King James Bible, it is somewhat surprising that this particular formula doesn’t appear in the KJV at all. The closest it comes is “I tell you, Nay,” which is used three times by Luke’s Jesus (Luke 12:51; 13:3, 5). Jeremiah also twice answers a rhetorical question with a simply “nay,” with nothing corresponding to “I say unto you” (Jeremiah 6:15; 8:12). Unless I’ve missed something, nowhere else in the entire Bible does a speaker or writer answer his own yes/no questions. (In fact, the words yea and nay in general occur far less frequently in the Bible than in the Book of Mormon. As a proportion of the total number of words in the book, nay is 2.3 times more frequent in the BoM than in the KJV, and yea is a whopping 10.7 times more frequent — making the latter even more characteristic of BoM language than the infamous “it came to pass,” for which the figure is 8.8.)

In the Book of Mormon, on the other hand, rhetorical questions followed by “(Behold,) I say unto you Yea/Nay” occur 33 times — recorded by at least 5 different writers and attributed to 12 different speakers spanning the entire thousand-year history of the Nephites.

No. Speaker References
8 Nephi 1 Ne. 15:16; 17:33, 34. 2 Ne. 26:25-28; 31:19
1 Jacob Jacob 2:14
1 Jarom Jarom 1:2
1 King Benjamin Mosiah 5:14
3 Abinadi Mosiah 12:37; 13:26, 32
10 Alma the Younger Alma 5:8, 9, 25; 7:17; 32:18, 29, 31, 35, 36; 42:25
2 Amulek Alma 11:24; 34:11
2 Ammon Alma 26:31, 33
1 Captain Moroni Alma 60:23
1 Jesus Christ 3 Nephi 12:26
1 Moroni Mormon 9:15
2 Mormon Moroni 7:29, 37

The prevalence of this structure throughout the book could be seen as a small piece of evidence that it is the work of one person (Joseph Smith) rather than of several different writers who lived hundreds of years apart. This fact that the structure also occurs in Joseph Smith’s own writings (see Doctrine & Covenants 84:59; 132:35) lends support to this interpretation.

Alternatively, for believers in the historicity of the book, the structure could be seen as a rhetorical device which became conventional among the Nephites — apparently originating with Nephi himself and subsequently imitated by his descendants down through the centuries. By the first century, it was apparently so well entrenched that Jesus himself felt the need to insert it into the Sermon on the Mount in order to meet the rhetorical expectations of his Nephite audience.

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The Son of righteousness

The King James Version of the fourth chapter of Malachi begins with these two verses:

For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.

The fact that the word Sun is capitalized, even in modern editions of the KJV, suggests that some editor interpreted it as a reference to God or Christ. (Sunne is usually but not always capitalized throughout the original 1611 edition; modern editions do not capitalize sun except in this verse.) And indeed if you were to hear this passage read aloud it would be natural to misinterpret Sun as Son. Google Ngrams shows that, in literary use generally, people generally capitalize both nouns — Sun of Righteousness — implying that, although they may use the correct vowel in Sun, they are nevertheless interpreting the Sun as the Son and Righteousness as a name of the Father. And the solecism (or perhaps, in some cases, intentional wordplay) Son of righteousness, while much less frequent than the correct version, is far from rare.

But it is of course only in English that such confusion or wordplay comes naturally, since sun and son are not homophones in other languages. It might just pass muster as a pun in certain other Germanic languages (e.g. zon/zoon in Dutch), but certainly not in Malachi’s original Hebrew, where the word shemesh carries not the faintest echo of ben. In context, Malachi is clearly making no anachronistic allusion to the Son of God’s arising from the tomb, but is rather playing on the double nature of the sun’s heat. The Lord maketh his sun of righteousness to rise on the evil and the good — but the evil will experience it as a consuming fire; the good, as lifegiving warmth. (William Law makes this point eloquently, though without reference to Malachi, in his Spirit of Love.)

For us modern (post 17th-century) readers of the KJV, another factor encouraging the misinterpretation of Malachi is the use of the possessive determiner his, which seems more appropriately applied to a masculine son than to the inanimate sun. The word its did not make its literary début until several decades after the publication of the KJV — it appears once in modern editions (Leviticus 25:5) but not at all in the 1611 original — so his had to do double duty as the possessive determiner corresponding to both he and it. See for example Genesis 3:15 — “it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” — where it is clear that his is to it as thy is to thou. (Here, too, this archaic use of his may have influenced later readers to interpret the “seed” as a specific person, Christ, rather than in a more general sense.) However, Jacobean writers still felt a little uncomfortable with this neuter use of his, just as we feel vaguely uncomfortable writing “the car whose window is broken,” and they tended to avoid it. The KJV translators did this either by using such alternative locutions as thereof and of it, or — in the case of the sun — by poetically masculinizing a neuter noun. The KJV refers to the sun as it four times (when there is no accompanying possessive) and as he only twice (and only in sentences with his).

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The Book of Mormon — purportedly written by the Nephites, American descendants of Hebrews who left the Old World circa 600 BC — quotes the third and fourth chapters of Malachi in their entirety, as chapters 24 and 25 of Third Nephi.

At first blush, this seems like a glaring anachronism, since Malachi prophesied circa 420 BC, long after Nephi and his family had left Jerusalem, and the Nephites should therefore have had no knowledge of his writings. The Book of Mormon has an explanation, though. The book of 3 Nephi deals with the visit of Jesus Christ to the Nephites following his resurrection, and in chapters 24 and 25, Christ — who did know the writings of Malachi — dictates them to the Nephites and “commanded them that they should write the words which the Father had given unto Malachi, which he should tell unto them” (3 Ne. 24:1). After the dictation — which for some reason includes only the second half of the Book of Malachi — is complete, Christ explains “These scriptures, which ye had not with you, the Father commanded that I should give unto you; for it was wisdom in him that they should be given unto future generations” (3 Ne. 26:2).

So quoting Malachi was not a mere ignorant blunder on Joseph Smith’s part. Whoever wrote the Book of Mormon clearly understood that the Nephites would not have had access to the Book of Malachi by any normal means and provided an explanation of how they could nevertheless know some of its contents.

There is still a blunder, though. In dictating Malachi 3-4 to the Nephites, when Christ comes to the passage discussed above, he says — you guessed it — “the Son of righteousness.” As discussed above, this is an error that would never have been made by Christ himself, nor by the Nephites who recorded his words, but only by an English speaker who knew the KJV but was not terribly literate. Joseph Smith fits the bill.

But then so do Joseph Smith’s scribes. After all, Smith didn’t actually write his English “translation” of the Book of Mormon but dictated it to an amanuensis — so it’s entirely possible that he translated the Nephites’ version of Christ’s dictation of Malachi correctly — “Sun of righteousness” — but that his scribe, misled by homophony, wrote down the wrong word, and that the error has been perpetuated in all subsequent editions of the book.

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Unfortunately, Joseph Smith doesn’t get off the hook so easily, because 3 Nephi  is not the only place where Malachi is quoted in the Book of Mormon. Material from Malachi also appears in 1 Nephi 22, and in 2 Nephi 25-26. These passages are far more problematic because they were supposedly written by Nephi, the son of Lehi, one of the original group that left Jerusalem in 600 BC and migrated to America. That is, they were written long before Christ appeared and dictated the words of Malachi — and Christ explicitly says in 3 Nephi that the Nephites had not had the Book of Malachi prior to his dictation. So how does the first Nephi come to be quoting from it?

Well, one possible explanation is that Nephi didn’t quote Malachi. After all, the entire Book of Mormon passed through the hands of Mormon and Moroni, who lived after Christ’s visit and thus had access to Malachi 3-4, so it is conceivable that the Malachi quotes represent later interpolations, not present in the original writings of Nephi. Sure enough, all the anachronistic Malachi quotations come from Malachi 4:1-2 — that is, from verses which were included in Christ’s partial dictation of the book — so Mormon and others would have had access to them. On the other hand, 1 and 2 Nephi come from the Small Plates of Nephi, and it is generally accepted that Mormon edited and abridged only the Large Plates, later appending the Small Plates complete and unmodified. Even if Mormon himself didn’t interpolate the Malachi quotes, though, someone else could have. Centuries passed between the revelation of Malachi to the Nephites and the final compilation of the Book of Mormon.

Another possibility is that the passages in question were written by Nephi, but that he was not quoting Malachi — that Malachi 4:1-2 is the work of some pre-exilic prophet whose work is now lost, and who was quoted by both Nephi and Malachi. In 1 Ne. 22, Nephi says “thus saith the prophet” (v. 15) and “this is according to the words of the prophet” (v. 23) when he quotes the Malachi material but does not mention Malachi by name. It’s just possible that he had some other prophet in mind, one whose writings survive only as unattributed quotations in the Book of Malachi.

Unfortunately, all these possible explanations are undermined by what we find in 2 Nephi 26:4-9, quoted below. The passages in bold show the clear influence of Malachi 4:1-2.

Wherefore, all those who are proud, and that do wickedly, the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, for they shall be as stubble. And they that kill the prophets, and the saints, the depths of the earth shall swallow them up, saith the Lord of Hosts; and mountains shall cover them, and whirlwinds shall carry them away, and buildings shall fall upon them and crush them to pieces and grind them to powder. And they shall be visited with thunderings, and lightnings, and earthquakes, and all manner of destructions, for the fire of the anger of the Lord shall be kindled against them, and they shall be as stubble, and the day that cometh shall consume them, saith the Lord of Hosts. O the pain, and the anguish of my soul for the loss of the slain of my people! For I, Nephi, have seen it, and it well nigh consumeth me before the presence of the Lord; but I must cry unto my God: Thy ways are just. But behold, the righteous that hearken unto the words of the prophets, and destroy them not, but look forward unto Christ with steadfastness for the signs which are given, notwithstanding all persecution—behold, they are they which shall not perish. But the Son of Righteousness shall appear unto them; and he shall heal them, and they shall have peace with him, until three generations shall have passed away, and many of the fourth generation shall have passed away in righteousness.

Yes, it’s the Son-with-an-o of Righteousness again, and this time the variant can’t easily be dismissed as an error on the part of Joseph Smith’s scribe. The context (i.e., coming right after two fairly direct quotations from Malachi 4:1) leaves little room for doubt that Malachi is being alluded to — but this time it is not a direct quote, and the rephrasing makes it clear that the Son (not the sun) is intended. This Son does not arise but appears, and “he shall heal them, and they shall have peace with him” is more unambiguously masculine than “with healing in his [its] wings.” Future editions of the Book of Mormon could easily correct 3 Nephi’s Son to Sun, but it wouldn’t be possible in 2 Nephi.

(In a somewhat parallel case, the original 1830 Book of Mormon frequently refers to the “straight and narrow” path — a very common solecism, reading straight for the KJV’s homophonous, but not synonymous, strait. More recent editions have quietly corrected all of these but one: 2 Ne. 9:41 — “Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him,” where the rephrasing makes it clear that straight means “straight,” not “strait.” Again, a mistake only an English speaker would make. This one is not as compelling as the Malachi case, though, since the context doesn’t make it so clear that it is intended as a biblical quotation.)

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A gematria revelation

Back in the summer of 2006 I read a series of online articles about the mathematical properties of the first verse in the Bible. Using standard Hebrew gematria, Genesis 1:1 adds up to 2,701 — a number with some interesting properties, being not only the 73rd triangular number, but also the product of the fourth hex number (37) and the fourth star number (73). Not many numbers are the product of the nth hex and nth star — 2,701 is only the fourth such number, and the next two are 7,381 and 16,471. Aside from its gematria properties, Genesis 1:1 consists of 28 letters, which is also a triangular number.

Since at that time I’d been playing around with English-language gematria, it occurred to me to see if I could find an English passage that could duplicate some of the mathematical properties of Genesis 1:1. Ideally I wanted a text which is to English what the Bible is to Hebrew, so I tried the first verse of the Book of Mormon — looked it up online, calculated its value using S:E:G: (A=1, B-2,… Z=26), and found the result mathematically boring. Moved on to other pastimes.

A few months later I was at a friend’s house reading a Whitley Strieber novel when suddenly a passage from the Book of Mormon popped into my head: “…and all things are become slippery, and we cannot hold them.” Immediately, and inexplicably, an idea about that passage popped into my head and, not having a Book of Mormon or a computer handy, I jotted it down on my bookmark to check later. I wrote: “all things are become slippery — complete quote — same properties as Gen 1:1.”

Later, at home, I searched for that passage on lds.organd found the complete quotation of which it was a part, from the sermon of Samuel the Lamanite, in the 13th chapter of Helaman. It was rather long:

O that we had remembered the Lord our God in the day that he gave us our riches, and then they would not have become slippery that we should lose them; for behold, our riches are gone from us. Behold, we lay a tool here and on the morrow it is gone; and behold, our swords are taken from us in the day we have sought them for battle. Yea, we have hid up our treasures and they have slipped away from us, because of the curse of the land. O that we had repented in the day that the word of the Lord came unto us; for behold the land is cursed, and all things are become slippery, and we cannot hold them. Behold, we are surrounded by demons, yea, we are encircled about by the angels of him who hath sought to destroy our souls. Behold, our iniquities are great. O Lord, canst thou not turn away thine anger from us?

It took me a few minutes, but I added it all up using S:E:G: and got 7,381 — a triangular number. It’s the product of 61 and 121, which are, respectively the fifth hex number and the fifth star number. (You can see this on a Chinese checkers board, which has 121 holes, 61 of which are in the central hexagon.) To complete the parallel with Genesis, I counted up the letters in the passage and found that there are 630 — which, as you can see below, is also a triangular number.

What to make of it? It’s not all that surprising that buried somewhere in the middle of the Book of Mormon is a passage with similar mathematical properties to Genesis 1:1 — but it is surprising, inexplicable really, that that particular passage, together with the knowledge that it had said properties, would pop into my head out of nowhere more than five years after I’d last read the Book of Mormon. It seems almost miraculous.

I say almost because, after all, I had read the Book of Mormon before, so all the data needed to produce this numerological discovery was already stored away in my head somewhere. Consciously, I couldn’t even remember the content of the complete passage, nor did I consciously know what number it added up to — but could it be that my subconscious had been quietly working for months, plugging through the Book of Mormon by memory and testing every passage to see if it fit what I had been looking for? I guess that would be my pet theory, since viewing it as a literal revelation (from whom? why?) makes even less sense.

About a year ago, this whole thing was brought back into my mind because of a dream I had. I saw the prophet Jeremiah staring at a large matrix of numbers — I had the impression that it was a magic square of order 11 (anachronistically written out in Arabic numerals, my BS detector reminds me, lest I be tempted to think I’d had a vision of the “real” Jeremiah). He explained to me that the entire Book of Lamentations had been revealed to him through contemplating those numbers. In fact, he said, he could have written a much longer book using this method, since there were infinitely many levels on which the numbers could be interpreted. The next morning, out of curiosity, I tried writing out an order-11 magic square just to see if it suggested anything to me about the sacking of Jerusalem. It didn’t, of course, but I did notice something else: the sum of all the numbers in an order-11 magic square is 7,381, and that number seemed awfully familiar.

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Mormonism and the Watchers

This is my collection of apparently coincidental parallels between the story of the Watchers (fallen angels who married human wives and begot giants, as alluded to in Genesis 6 and related in more detail in the Book of Enoch and other apocryphal literature) and Mormonism, all three topics (Watchers, Mormonism, and coincidences) being special interests of mine.

Nephites and Nephilim:

In the Bible, when the “sons of God” (fallen angels) marry the daughters of men, their offspring are the Nephilim, usually translated as “giants.” The Book of Mormon deals with the race of Nephites (which would be Nephiim in Hebrew), the descendants of Nephi. Just as the Nephilim are giants, Nephi mentions on several occasions that he is “large in stature,” and there are hints that his progeny, too, are physically larger than their enemies, the Lamanites. For example the Book of Mormon twice uses phrases like “a day’s journey for a Nephite,” implying that Lamanites (being smaller?) would travel at a different pace. Near the end of the book, when the Nephites fall into wickedness, they are cursed by God and become “weak, like unto their brethren, the Lamanites” — implying that ordinarily a Nephite would be much stronger than a Lamanite.

(For some of these references I am indebted to an online article called “Nephite Stature,” by a Strangite Mormon with a Slavic surname. Unfortunately I can’t recall his name, and the article in question seems no longer to be online, so I’m unable to give him proper credit. His conclusion was to equate the Nephites not with the Nephilim, but with Bigfoot. [Update: I’ve located this article. The author’s name is James D. Hajicek, and the article is archived here.])

The angel who appeared to Joseph Smith and told him about the Book of Mormon, though usually known as Moroni, is also called Nephi in some early tellings of the story.

Baurak Ale and Baraqel:

Two of the code names Joseph Smith used for himself are Enoch and Baurak Ale. While the latter is usually understood as coming from the Hebrew barak-el, meaning “blessed of God,” it also matches Baraqel (“lightning of God”), the name of one of the fallen angels listed in the Book of Enoch. (The angel Moroni/Nephi is is described by Smith as having a “countenance like lightning,” a phrase which comes from the Bible but is nevertheless interesting in this context.)

(I remember reading something by the Mormon apologist Hugh Nibley which makes the connection between Baurak Ale and Baraqel, though in a somewhat disingenuous way. Nibley discusses a badly fragmented document which contains a conversation between Enoch and one of the giants, including a reference to “Baraqel my father.” Nibley tries to put the line in Enoch’s mouth, saying that Baraqel must be another name for Enoch’s father Jared and thus an appropriate name for Joseph Smith — but, given Nibley’s obvious familiarity with the Enoch literature, I’m quite sure he must have known that Baraqel was one of the Watchers and therefore the giant’s father, not Enoch’s.)

The Book of Enoch mentions Baraqel together with another angel, Kokabel (“star of God”), saying that Baraqel taught men astrology and Kokabel taught them the constellations. Joseph Smith also taught esoteric astrology, in his Book of Abraham, in which he uses the Hebrew word kokob (“star”) and its plural, which he spells kokaubeam.

Another of the fallen angels mentioned in the Book of Enoch is Asael (apparently a variant of Azazel), which happens to have been the name of Joseph Smith’s grandfather.

Marriage pacts:

In the Book of Enoch, Semjaza, the leader of the Watchers, fears that the others will back out of their plan to go down and take earthly wives, with the result that he alone will be punished. So he has all the earthbound angels meet together on the summit of a mountain, where they swear an oath, binding themelves under mutual imprecations, that they will go through with their plan to marry mortal women.

Like Semjaza, Joseph Smith had plans to enter into forbidden marital relations. (He secretly married 30-odd women, some of whom already had husbands; polygamy later became a public practice under Brigham Young, but Joseph Smith kept it secret and publicly denied it all his life.) And like Semjaza, he gathered together a select group of loyal friends, had them also marry polygamously, and bound the group together with oaths of loyalty and secrecy. The whole ritual apparatus of the Mormon temple, beginning with a Masonry-inspired initiation in which oaths of secrecy are administered and culminating in a special marriage ceremony which the uninitiated are not allowed to attend, is an outgrowth of the measures Joseph Smith took to keep his polygamous relationships secret and safe.

Just as Semjaza and company made their covenant on a mountaintop, the Mormon temple is often referred to with the biblical phrase “mountain of the Lord.”

Angels even enter into it. Smith reportedly convinced some of his wives to marry him by saying he had been so commanded by an angel with a drawn sword, who threatened him with death and damnation if he failed to comply. (One can easily picture the Watchers using similar methods to enforce their oath.) And of course nearly every Mormon temple — not the churches, but the temples, where the initiatory and marital rituals are administered — is topped, not with a cross, but with the figure of an angel.

Also relevant is the Mormon teaching that marriage — that is, the “celestial marriage” administered in the temple, which was originally polygamous in nature — is necessary for full exaltation. With celestial marriage, it is possible to become a God; without it, one can rise no higher than the comparatively lowly position of “ministering angel.” Read with this doctrine in mind, the Watcher story takes on a whole new meaning, with the angels motivated not by mere lust (why would angels be subject to lust?) but by a hubristic desire to rise above their appointed station and become Gods.

Erasing the Watchers:

For all the links between Mormonism and the story of the Watchers as told in Genesis and elaborated in the apocryphal Enoch literature, the story itself has been expunged from Mormon scripture. In the Book of Moses (Joseph Smith’s revision of the first few chapters of Genesis, with some added material about Enoch), the phrase “sons of God” refers not to the angels but to Noah and his sons, and in any case it is not the sons of God themselves, but their daughters who sin — by marrying the “sons of men.” In Smith’s telling, what angers the Lord is not that women are marrying the sons of God, but that they are failing to do so! Giants are mentioned, but no longer in connection with the intermarriage business. It’s easy to see this as a pro-Watcher version of the story, covering up the sins of the angels.

What to make of it?

I’m not the only one to have noticed some of these parallels (though I think I’ve collected more of them than anyone else), and there are a few fringe Christian websites, like this one, that try to make an anti-Mormon argument out of them. These people maintain that the Watchers are real and that it was they who, masquerading as angels of light, appeared to Joseph Smith, revealed the Book of Mormon, and directed the founding of the Mormon church for their own nefarious purposes.

Since I’m not the kind of guy who believes in Gods or angels, or who looks to the Book of Genesis, much less the Book of Enoch, for reliable information about the history of the world, I obviously don’t have much use for theories of this kind. Nor do I have any alternative theory of my own. I simply list the parallels for whatever they’re worth and file them away for (in the unlikely event that it should ever prove necessary) future reference. I suspect that, like so many of the other intriguing parallels that catch my attention, they’ll ultimately turn out to be nothing but a mass of superficially interesting coincidences, nothing but a very clever punplex, fun to think about and tinker with from time to time, but ultimately signifying nothing.

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Mark Twain and the contents of the Book of Mormon

Roughing It contains Mark Twain’s famous review of the Book of Mormon (“chloroform in print”), with an oddly not-quite-right list of the contents:

The Mormon Bible consists of fifteen “books”–being the books of Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Omni, Mosiah, Zeniff, Alma, Helaman, Ether, Moroni, two “books” of Mormon, and three of Nephi.

This is mostly correct, except that there are actually four books of Nephi and no separate book of Zeniff. The record of Zeniff is contained within the book of Mosiah, comprising chapters 9-22 of that 29-chapter book. The omitted book, 4 Nephi, is tiny, consisting of a single chapter.

If some early Christian writer had given a similarly not-quite-right list of the Bible’s contents, we would take it as evidence that the Bible actually consisted of a different collection of books at that time, but in the case of the Book of Mormon there are so many surviving copies of the first and other early editions that we know that, while a few words have been changed from edition to edition, the list of books was never any different.

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