Tag Archives: Joseph Smith

City of Enoch

I’ve been reading Richard Lyman Bushman’s biography of Joseph Smith, which I bought some four or five years ago but hadn’t gotten around to until now, and was surprised to find this in a section on Smith’s revision of the Bible:

In redoing the early chapters of Genesis, . . . Joseph wove Christian doctrine into the text without altering the basic story. But with the appearance of Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam, the text expanded far beyond the biblical version. In Genesis, Enoch is summed up in 5 verses; in Joseph Smith’s revision, Enoch’s story extends to 110 verses.

Bible readers had always been curious about Enoch and the city transported into heaven. Joseph’s expansion appeared when a vast apocryphal literature on Enoch was first being rediscovered. . . . Up until that time, modern biblical commentators on Enoch had been restricted to the five verses in Genesis and the three in the New Testament that speak of Enoch’s genealogy, prophecy of judgment, and ascent into heaven without dying. (p. 138)

Bushman has obviously done his homework and is in a position know precisely what the Bible does and doesn’t say about Enoch — and yet he still somehow misses the fact that Bible readers had clearly not “always been curious about Enoch and the city transported into heaven,” because no such story existed until Joseph Smith invented it in 1830. Nothing in the Bible — nor in any of the apocryphal Enoch literature, for that matter — says anything about a city’s ascending into heaven with Enoch. Far from being a statesman or city-builder, the Enoch of pre-Mormon tradition is a solitary visionary, communing with angels, walking with God, and spending less and less time in the human world until he finally vanishes from it altogether. But so central is the holy city to the Mormon version of the Enoch story — Enoch without his city is like Samson without his jawbone or Christ without his cross –that a Mormon writer like Bushman simply assumes it (no pun intended). Just as the brain will “fill in” a blind spot with what it expects to see, Bushman can make a comprehensive catalog of what little the Bible has to say about Enoch without seeing the absence of Zion. It’s the same psychological mechanism that prevents most Genesis readers from noticing anything odd about the firmament.

That said, there is a City of Enoch in the Bible — but it’s named after a different Enoch, Cain’s son rather than Jared’s.

And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch. (Gen 4:17)

One might think that Joseph Smith’s story comes from conflating the two Enochs — the one who had a city and the one who ascended to heaven — but that seems not to be the case. Smith’s version of Genesis, like the original, includes two distinct Enochs and (unlike the original) two distinct cities. But while he apparently didn’t confuse one Enoch with the other, I think Smith probably was influenced by the fact that they had the same name, and that the Cainite City of Enoch gave him the idea for the Sethite Enoch’s Zion. The influence of names can also be seen in Smith’s other work: The Book of Mormon’s Enos is not the biblical Enos, but his story seems to be a riff on “then began men to call upon the name of the Lord” (Gen 4:26); King Noah is not the biblical Noah, but both are wine-bibbers and planters of vineyards (see Gen 9:20-21, Mosiah 11:15). Perhaps the most extreme example of this is 2 Nephi 3, which ties a bunch of different people named Joseph together as Lehi tells his son Joseph how the patriarch Joseph prophesied the coming of a future Joseph who would be named after his father, Joseph. So closely did Joseph Smith associate himself with Joseph of Egypt that J. J. Dewey has proposed, with a surprising degree of plausibility, that Smith actually saw himself as the reincarnation of the biblical patriarch.

It’s also just possible that Smith was on to something in ascribing one Enoch’s characteristics to the other. While it is true that Genesis, as it has come down to us, presents the son of Cain and the son of Jared as two different people, it would be an oversimplification to say that the one has nothing to do with the other or that their shared name is just a coincidence. There are many suspicious parallels between the Cainite and Sethite genealogies:

Aside from Enoch swapping places with Mehujael/Mahalaleel, the two lineages are exactly parallel. (Adam maps to Enos because, despite their phonetic dissimilarity, the two names have the same meaning, “man,” in Hebrew.) The most obvious explanation for this is that the two genealogies are cognates, variant forms of one original tradition, which would mean that the two Enochs who appear in the Bible might be different versions of the same legendary figure — a figure who may originally, like Smith’s Enoch, have both founded a city and ascended (with it?) into heaven.

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