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A recent article by Colby Townsend highlighted the importance of textual criticism in studying Latter-day Saint scripture. Textual criticism tries by a variety of methods to understand the “original” or “best” wording of a document that may exist in multiple, conflicting versions or where the manuscripts are confusing or difficult to read. Part 2 of 2 of a set of forthcoming articles by Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Matthew L. Bowen, and Ryan Dahle commends Townsend’s efforts to raise awareness of the importance of textual criticism, while differing on some interpretations.
In Townsend’s article, he proposes that the names “Mahijah” and “Mahujah” were included in the Book of Moses as the result of one of the two following scenarios:
- The name “Mahijah” was mistakenly created through a misreading of the name “Mahujah.” Bradshaw, Bowen, and Dahle argue against this possibility in Part 1 of their response, as mentioned in the Part 1 article preview.
- As an alternative scenario, Townsend proposes that Joseph Smith created the Book of Moses names “Mahijah” and “Mahujah” after seeing a table of name variants in the Hebrew text of Genesis 4:18 in a Bible commentary written by Adam Clarke. The table includes an entry containing two similar names: “Mehujael” and “Mehijael.”
While Bradshaw, Bowen, and Dahle are not averse in principle to the general possibility that Joseph Smith may have relied on study aids as part of his translation of the Bible, they discuss why in this case such a conjecture raises more questions than it answers. They argue that a common ancient source for “Mahujah” and “Mahijah” in the Book of Moses and similar names in the Bible and an ancient Dead Sea Scrolls Enoch text named The Book of Giants cannot be ruled out.
By way of contrast, Townsend asserts categorically that the names in the Book of Giants tradition and in the Book of Moses “are not the same” because the similar Book of Giants name contains the Hebrew letter heh (H), while the Book of Moses names, like the similar biblical name, contain the Hebrew letter chet (Ḥ) instead. However, the authors point out that it isn’t clear which of the two Hebrew letters stands behind the English “h” in the names “Mahijah” and “Mahujah” in the Book of Moses because that text is only available in its English translation. Moreover, the authors point out evidence from the use of Hebrew in the Dead Sea Scrolls community that shows the two letters were often confused.
Taken together, these and other arguments by the authors provide a serious challenge to the idea that the similar names in the Bible, the Book of Giants, and the Book of Moses could not have had a common, ancient origin.
More broadly, and consistent with their findings that the similar names in the Book of Giants and the Book of Moses may have had a common, ancient origin, Bradshaw, Bowen, and Dahle reiterate arguments they have made elsewhere that the short and fragmentary Book of Giants, a work not discovered until 1948, contains much more dense and generally more pertinent resemblances to Moses 6-7 than the much longer 1 Enoch, the only ancient Enoch text outside the Bible that was published and translated into English in Joseph Smith’s lifetime.
Look for Bradshaw, Bowen, and Dahle’s article in the near future in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship.. In the meantime, see the summary in Book of Moses Insight #7, posted at Interpreter and Pearl of Great Price Central.