Enoch: A Case for Ancient Text Restored Pt.1

One of the most unique characters revealed to us in the latter days through new revealed scripture is Enoch the Prophet. His vision of the heavens and earth is rivaled only by John’s, Nephi’s, Ezekiel’s, and the like. His power in teaching is described in unequaled terms, his overwhelming charisma brings about the most successful Zion community known to us in the history of the world, and he is witness to events not given to any other prophet that we know of (he sees God actually weep). Yet, he largely flies under the radar, undetected and under-appreciated. This is especially true in terms of what ancient literature has to say about him and how that image matches up with the one Joseph Smith gave us.

When Joseph Smith was commanded to “translate” the Bible the direction was given under the premise that he would be restoring many of the “plain and precious truths” that had been lost and/or removed. The JST was, to my understanding, considered by most people to primarily be this: a restoration of ancient text lost during the long ages of apostasy. (see TPJS 9-10)

Today, the trend among scholars in the Church studying the text of the JST (now that the text can be verified) has been to argue that the JST filled several purposes, not just a restoration of anciently lost text. Things have even gone so far that I heard Thom Wayment say two years ago when he spoke at BYU in a presentation of his detailed study of the changes made in the JST that very little evidence points to any restorations of text. I am not disparaging this view, many of the changes do appear to have discernible purposes other than restoring the text and the evidence makes it difficult to identify places where perhaps the text is being truly restored. I have not read Wayment’s JST book but I presume that it is more of the same.

It strikes me (and this is a truly half-formed, uneducated opinion) that if we can see many alternative reasons for the small changes made in Joseph’s translation of the Bible that reduce the likelihood of their being restorations of ancient lost text then the longer passages seemingly created whole-cloth from the revelations given to him are greater candidates for restored text status. This is so highly debatable, and I’m so out of my league, that you may all feel free to mock me and point out my obvious flaws (I know I can count on some of you to oblige this request). :)

I’m thinking along the lines of the story of Adam’s baptism, the prophecy of Joseph in Gen. 50, etc. And for me, the entire account of Enoch in Moses 6-7. I’m not interested in arguing about the previous two examples (or really any other place), it’s just an observation.

One of the biggest reasons that most passages are excluded from consideration as restored ancient text is that as we find older and older copies of the Biblical books we continue to lack evidence for textual changes that correspond to Joseph’s. It could be argued easily that we haven’t found any texts old enough yet (especially with the OT) but it would be nice if we found at least one home-run example of Joseph nailing a text restoration in the JST. Though it’s possible that some have been identified, I’m not aware of any.

So how does Enoch fit into all this? Simple: The bible only refers to Enoch in a very small handful of verses: Gen. 5:18-24 and we don’t learn much about him. His dad was Jared, he gave birth to Methuselah, he didn’t live as long as his fathers or son, and (most tantalizingly) he walked with God and then simply was not. That last part is enough to drive any good Jew crazy and many stories are told to fill out the details.

A huge amount of extra-biblical literature exists about or refers to Enoch. We’ll discuss that later but it needs be noted that it had a noticeable affect on the earliest Christians: Hebrews 11:5 tells us that Enoch was translated and didn’t taste of death because of his superior testimony; James 1:14-15 quotes 1 Enoch and the greater part of his book is directly influenced by that text. It is universally agreed by scholars that the earliest Christians accepted some form of Enochic literature as scriptural though the extent of its influence on the NT and Christian doctrine is debated.

But the point is that our early Christian brothers and sisters had a much more extensive Enoch tradition than is currently extant in the Bible today that they accepted to one degree or another as being true. In fact, it’s not until Origen that we hear of any Christian rejecting it as being a true part of their scriptures and only then because he could not or did not want to defend it against critics.

So here we have an Enochic tradition that at least was reasonably acceptable to early Christians. Add to this that Joseph Smith was given a large, detailed revelation about this same Enoch and now we have an avenue of research that needs to be taken up. How do the two traditions compare? What did the 1st century Christian Enoch look like and is it anything like Joseph’s Enoch? Could Joseph’s Enoch account really be a restoration of lost text? And who has even attempted to answer these questions among the Saints? (I’ll give you a hint: his name starts with an “n” and ends with an “ibley”) Next we set the stage a little more fully.

  • jupiterschild

    Long live the multi-part post!

    That last part is enough to drive any good Jew crazy and many stories are told to fill out the details.

    Why isn’t Joseph Smith doing the same thing as “any good Jew”? (BTW: Hebrews and James are in this category of filling in details. Kugel’s Traditions of the Bible is a good resource for this kind of stuff.)

    Finally, why do you see it necessary to go looking for restored texts? If many of these ancient noncanonical, exegetical texts, though not historically accurate, were authoritative for their ancient audiences, why must we look for any actual text behind Joseph Smith’s revelation? And if the smaller changes aren’t reflected in our ancient witnesses, why must the larger pieces be so?

    The way I see it, J.S. stands in a long line of people who were fascinated by Enoch’s break with the previous genealogical entries, and felt it necessary to flesh it out.

  • lxxluthor

    JC: Why isn’t Joseph Smith doing the same thing as “any good Jew”?

    I never claimed he wasn’t in the post. Though I will now. This is related to the next post’s topic.

    Finally, why do you see it necessary to go looking for restored texts?

    Jupiter! You just keeping chomping at the bit and getting ahead of the game!

    The way I see it, J.S. stands in a long line of people who were fascinated by Enoch’s break with the previous genealogical entries, and felt it necessary to flesh it out.

    Ok, Ok, I’ll give you a spoiler for those of you who haven’t already looked at Nibley’s Book of Enoch. The correspondence is so similar on so many levels that I don’t see how there isn’t a common tradition behind them. I promise I’ll flesh this out in the next post (or two).

    And if the smaller changes aren’t reflected in our ancient witnesses, why must the larger pieces be so?

    They don’t have to be. But when Joseph is explicitly under the impression that he’s restoring ancient text lost to time and wicked redactors then I think there is value in at least looking for evidence of this. We may not find it (or at least not conclusively) but not to look is for me (and not necessarily anyone else) is to ignore a huge signpost that God is painting for us. This is exactly what Nibley, Sperry and others did when they went looking for the OT in the Book of Mormon, etc. And that was a very fruitful avenue. So I’ll take God (or Joseph if you prefer) at his word and at least look for what they claim is there. And when others have not succeeded in the little changes the next most obvious place to start is the big ones.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com David J

    Yet, he largely flies under the radar, undetected and under-appreciated. This is especially true in terms of what ancient literature has to say about him and how that image matches up with the one Joseph Smith gave us.

    Not entirely correct. There is an entire Enochic tradition and lore outside of the Bible, as evidenced by the Pseudepigrapha and the DSSs (which contain pseudepigraphic material). There are at least three books of Enoch in the pseudepigrapha (although the last one hardly deals with him directly). So what JS did with Enoch wasn’t entirely novel. Even the Jewish tradition has in-depth stories on him (cf. Ginzberg’s “Legends of the Jews,” vol. 1 or 2, can’t remember which – tells of his ascension and stuff – lots of lightning and other neat things).

    I would submit that JS’s contribution on Enochic material is marginal compared to the other extra-biblical contributions. I will hand it to you though, in that JS’s Enoch is a better Christian than the others… ;)

    And JS didn’t translate anything from the Bible. English to English? How is that a translation? Read Barlow’s Mormons and the Bible as soon as possible. He illustrates that JS had no knowledge of a word that described what he was doing to the text of the Bible, and so used “translation” to describe it. (Perhaps “pesher” would have fit better, or not. Who knows.).

  • lxxluthor

    David: That first comment was made with regard to the LDS community, not the larger one. And the first section of the next post is going to discuss all of the major Enochic texts so thanks for setting me up. :) You’ll also notice that I put translate into quotations, that was by design.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    I think you mean Jude 14-15, not James 1.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    A final note on the issue of whether the longer JST sections are more likely to be “restorations” of an ancient text than the shorter ones. This strikes me as having no weight at all. First of all, if the longer sections are actual restorations of the “original” biblical text, then we would likely see MORE evidence of these original readings rather than less. If you are going to exclude the short JST on the basis of a lack of correspondence with the biblical mss, you have to also exclude the long JST on the same basis.

  • lxxluthor

    TT: You are absolutely correct on the whole Jude thing. I’ve been screwing it up in my head for months. Oops. Way to look like I know what I’m talking about. As for the second comment, I’m not convinced. I know how David J. feels about this but 2 Ne. 3 demonstrates that the JST of Gen. 50 was entirely lost without a trace, unless you look in the Book of Mormon (or you think that JS made them both up). I expected that we would have found small changes to the text more readily because our oldest NT and OT manuscripts are full of slight changes, variations, additions and deletions. Whole passages go missing without a trace; our oldest manuscripts don’t contain huge selections that were dropped or lost (at least that I am aware of). And as I will try to show next post there are some arguments for a text behind Enoch in JS Moses. They are far from infallible (naturally) but they permit the possibility of an ancient text behind the Enochic tradition that JS was restoring.

  • http://www.mormonfolklore.org/blog Glenn

    I’m looking forward to the next installation here.

    I got into the whole Enoch thing years and years ago when I was in highschool. My dad and one of his friends from church had read Nibley and were very excited about “The Watchers” — hypothesising that these fallen angels may have become the actual pantheon of Gods that were remembered in Greek mythology. That potenital connection excited me then, but seems very silly to me now.

    In a somewhat unrelated note — and maybe you don’t want to get into this at all here — a few years ago I was preparing a Gospel Doctrine lesson on the degrees of Glory, so I was reading in Corinthians. During this time I was also teaching English Comp classes at a local state college. As I read through Corinthians 15 (I think that’s the right chapter) it struck me that what Paul was doing in his structure was the same thing I was teaching my students to do in structuring a compare and contrast essay. The question, if I remember correctly, was “what type of body will we have in the ressurection,” and Paul said there were different types, and drew two analogies: 1) the different types of bodies you have on the Earth (i.e. Terrestrial bodies) like men, fishes, birds, etc and 2) the different types of bodies in the heavens (i.e. Celestial bodies) like the sun, the moon, the stars. As I read through this, I had a minor faith crisis — I didn’t see any way that “telestial” fit in to what Paul was saying at all — not in the sense that “this is what he originally meant.” It didn’t fit to me (and, quite frankly, still doesn’t). I certainly don’t want to threadjack here, but your discussion about the claims of JST brought this memory to mind, and it still hasn’t been completely resolved. Any wisdom or guidnace you could offer?

  • Jason

    Glenn
    I know what you mean about the telestial stuff thrown into Corinthians. It’s so obvious (in any language other than English) that the passage a contrast between the earthly and the heavenly.

    I think, though, that the JST was just a vehicle to get more doctrine. And more doctrine indeed we got. Jacob commented here that he doesn’t see the Celestial/Terrestrial/Telestial doctrine as the ending point of our salvation doctrine, merely a step on the way. Read his comment (and others on that same post). It helped me.


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