In this Insight, we will introduce the most well-known ancient Enoch manuscripts and review the possibility that Joseph Smith could have derived the Enoch accounts in Moses 6–7 from any of them. Pioneering insights on the relationship between ancient Enoch manuscripts and the Book of Moses can be found in the writings of Hugh W. Nibley, who wrote a series of articles on the subject for the Ensign magazine in 1975–1977.
Of the extant Enoch manuscripts, the best-known is 1 Enoch, also referred to as Ethiopic Enoch, or simply The Book of Enoch. 1 Enoch is one of the most important Jewish works of pseudepigrapha, highly valued in the early Christian community and explicitly (and implicitly) cited in New Testament epistles.
Except for quotations of 1 Enoch found in Christian patristic literature, the full form of the text was unknown to the Western world until 1773, when it was discovered in Abyssinia by James Bruce. While this discovery brought 1 Enoch out of obscurity, it remained largely untouched until it was translated into English by Richard Laurence in 1821.
What is the likelihood that Joseph Smith knew about Laurence’s translation? In his 2010 master’s thesis, Salvatore Cirillo cites and amplifies the position of Michael Quinn, who more than a decade earlier had argued that Joseph Smith’s access to this translation of 1 Enoch had moved “beyond probability—to fact.” However, Cirillo’s confidence is at odds with the views of other scholars who have addressed this issue. For example, renowned Latter-day Saint historian Richard L. Bushman concluded: “It is scarcely conceivable that Joseph Smith knew of Laurence’s Enoch translation.”
Because Cirillo agrees that Joseph Smith likely didn’t have access to the 1821 printing of Laurence’s translation, he has argued that the Prophet may have used a purported 1828 American edition of the work. However, evidence has now been provided that there was no such edition. Though researchers will no doubt continue their search for sources through which Joseph Smith could have become aware of 1 Enoch, conclusively arguing that he actually saw and studied such sources will likely prove difficult. More importantly, for reasons we outline further below, 1 Enoch as a whole would have been a relatively unfruitful source of ideas when compared with other ancient Enoch texts that Joseph Smith could not have known.
Most Enoch scholars break the text of 1 Enoch into five separate books: (1) The Book of the Watchers (chapters 1–36); (2) The Book of the Parables or Similitudes (chapters 37–71); (3) The Book of the Luminaries or the Astronomical Book (chapters 72–82); (4) The Dream Visions or Book of Dreams (chapters 83–90); and (5) The Epistle of Enoch (chapters 91–108).
In contrast to the other four books in 1 Enoch, the Book of Parables will hold special interest for students of the Book of Moses. Notably, both the Book of Moses and the Book of Parables describe heavenly ascents of Enoch that include visions with a central figure and a common set of titles. For instance, the title “Son of Man,” which is a notable feature of the Book of Parables, appears in marked density throughout Enoch’s grand vision in the Book of Moses. Remarkably, the titles “Chosen One,” “Anointed One,” and “Righteous One” also appear prominently in both texts. Other passages in the Book of Parables speak of the resurrection of the righteous in the last days who will be gathered to a place of glory and holiness and “with that Son of Man they will eat and lie down and rise up forever and ever.”
However, aside from the shared prominence of the “Son of Man” and related motifs in the Book of Parables and the Book of Moses, very few unique and unmistakable parallels have been identified between the two Enoch chapters of the Book of Moses and the sizable text of 1 Enoch. Resemblances are relatively sparse and the story lines are mostly divergent. A study by Latter-day Saint historian Jed Woodworth concluded that the principal themes of “Laurence’s 105 translated chapters do not resemble Joseph Smith’s Enoch in any obvious way.” In an online review of the evidence, And even one one well-informed scholar who is skeptical of the divine origins of the Book of Moses informed commentator concluded that “the literary connections between Moses 6–8 and 1 Enoch are in my opinion very loose, and more time and attention should be placed elsewhere.”
In summary, ongoing research has shown that it is not only improbable but also off the mark to conclude that 1 Enoch served as the primary inspiration for Joseph Smith’s writings about Enoch. In spite of all the spilled ink spent on 1 Enoch, more striking significant affinities are found in other pseudepigrapha described below.
2 Enoch, also known as Slavonic Enoch or The Book of the Secrets of Enoch, is a Jewish pseudepigraphal text that describes the heavenly ascent of the antediluvian patriarch Enoch and his initiation into the divine mysteries. Although most scholars argue for a first century CE Greek original, no Greek fragments have been found. 2 Enoch comes to us principally through medieval Slavic Christian manuscripts.
Latter-day Saint readers of the Book of Moses will find interest in the 2 Enoch account about Enoch’s ascension to the highest heaven and his initiation into the heavenly mysteries in that celestial realm. At one point, the Lord commands Michael to anoint and clothe Enoch, saying: “Go and take Enoch and remove his earthly garments, and anoint him with my sweet ointment, and put him into the garments of My glory.” As a result of this investiture, Enoch declares: “I looked at myself, and I was transformed into one of his glorious ones.” Other details of this heavenly ascent resemble aspects of Enoch’s vision in Moses 7. Moreover, God teaches Enoch about the Creation—how things were first created spiritually, then physically. God also informs Enoch that his words would be again revealed in a distant generation—a theme that is echoed in Moses 1:41.
What are the chances that Joseph Smith could have known 2 Enoch? The likelihood is nil, since its first publication in a Western language (Latin) did not occur until 1899.
3 Enoch, also known as the Hebrew Apocalypse of Enoch or the Book of Palaces, is a Jewish pseudepigraphal text written later than 1 Enoch and 2 Enoch. 3 Enoch can be seen to draw on the traditions found in the earlier Enochic literature, especially on the Similitudes Book of Parables of 1 Enoch. It is often grouped together with the texts of the Hekhalot literature, a body of esoteric Jewish writings that feature the idea of ascension to the heavenly realm. The date of its creation is highly disputed, and most scholars suggest that it is a composite work written by multiple authors in different time periods.
In a previous Insight, the title of Enoch as a “lad” in Moses 6:31 and 3 Enoch was discussed. Other items of interest to Latter-day Saint readers include the scene in 3 Enoch where R. Ishmael reaches the entrance to the highest heaven. In addition, echoing the similar account in 2 Enoch, Metatron (an Enoch figure in later Jewish tradition) recalls for R. Ishmael the transfiguration that occurred during his being taken up to heaven. God revealed to Enoch the heavenly secrets and gave him a throne similar to the throne of glory, as mentioned in Moses 7:59.
Metatron also showed R. Ishmael the spirits of the dead, both righteous and wicked, and also the spirits of those yet to be born. This corresponds to Moses 6:36, which states that Enoch “beheld the spirits that God had created” and also to Moses 7:57 where Enoch sees in vision that “as many of the spirits as were in prison came forth, and stood on the right hand of God; and the remainder were reserved in chains of darkness until the judgment of the great day.”
Could Joseph Smith have known 3 Enoch? There is no possibility of that, since none of the extant manuscripts of 3 Enoch were published in his lifetime.
Other Enoch Sources
In a previous Insight, we explored some of the significant Mandaean sources that intersect with the Book of Moses Enoch account. Moreover, in 2018, John C. Reeves and Annette Yoshiko Reed published the first volume of their book series entitled Enoch from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. This volume makes available in English many little-known texts about Enoch from Jewish, Christian and Islamic sources. Examples of the resemblances in these texts to the Book of Moses have been explored elsewhere.
Like the ancient Enoch sources discussed above, none of these additional sources would have been accessible when Joseph Smith translated the Book of Moses.
Book of Giants
The Book of Giants is a collection of fragments from an Enochic book discovered at Qumran. It is not found within the collection of writings in the Ethiopic book of 1 Enoch and, as a whole, resembles little else in the Enoch tradition. Material related to the Book of Giants is included in Talmudic and medieval Jewish literature, in descriptions of the Manichaean canon, in citations by hostile heresiologists, and in third and fourth century fragments from Turfan published by Henning in 1943. Later, several fragments of a related work were identified among the Qumran manuscripts.
The fragmentary Book of Giants has proven to be of tremendous importance to Enoch scholarship. It was very popular at Qumran, more popular than 1 Enoch itself. Even more significantly, it is arguably the oldest extant Enoch manuscript. Although fragments of the Book of Giants had been found previously in the writings of Mani, its discovery at Qumran as part of the “Dead Sea Scrolls” showed that its composition “is at least five hundred years [earlier] than previously thought.” Thus, it helps us “to reconstruct the literary shape of the early stages of the Enochic tradition.”
Note that the term “giants” in the title of the book is misleading. Actually, the book describes two different groups, referred to in Hebrew as the gibborim and the nephilim. In discussing Enoch’s mission among the gibborim, it is probably more appropriate to read the term with its customary connotation in the Bible of “mighty hero” or “warrior.” Later, the terms gibborim and nephilim (the latter term originally used to refer to what seems to have been a remnant of a race of “giants”) were equated in some contexts. Consistent with this distinction, Joseph Smith, in his Enoch account, specifically differentiated “giants” (nephilim?) from Enoch’s other adversaries (gibborim?).
Although the combined fragments of the Book of Giants scarcely fill three pages in the English translation of García Martinez, we find in it the most extensive series of significant parallels between a single ancient text and Joseph Smith’s account of Enoch’s preaching mission and subsequent battles with his enemies. These resemblances range from general themes in the story line (secret works, murders, visions, earthly and heavenly books of remembrance that evoke fear and trembling, moral corruption, hope held out for repentance, the crying out of the earth, the gathering of the righteous, and the eventual defeat of Enoch’s adversaries in battle—ending with their utter destruction and imprisonment) to specific occurrences of rare expressions in corresponding contexts (the reference to a “wild man,” the name and parallel role of Mahijah/Mahujah, and the “roar of the wild beasts”).
|Event||Book of Moses||Book of Giants|
|Secret works and murders||6:15||1Q23, 9+14+15:2-4|
|A “wild man”||6:38||4Q531, 22:8|
|Mahijah/Mahawai questions Enoch||6:40||4Q530, 2:20-23|
|Enoch reads record of deeds||6:46-47||4Q203, 7b col. ii; 8:1-11|
|Trembling and weeping after Enoch reads||6:47||4Q203, 4:6|
|Call to repentance||6:52||4Q203, 8:14-15|
|Conceived in sin||6:55||4Q203, 8:6-9|
|Enoch defeats gibborim||7:13||4Q531, 22:3-7|
|The “roar of wild beasts”||7:13||4Q531, 22:8|
|Imprisonment of wicked gibborim||7:38||4Q203, 7B 1:5|
|Repentant gathered to holy city/cities||7:16-18, 69||Mani Book of Giants, Text G|
|The earth cries out against the sinners||7:48||4Q203, 9-10|
Examples of parallel themes and expressions in the Book of Giants and Moses 6-7 accounts of
Enoch’s preaching mission, battles, and gathering of the righteous
We will draw on parallel themes and expressions from the Book of Giants like those above one by one in several subsequent Insights.
It would have been virtually impossible for Joseph Smith in 1830 to have been aware of the most important resemblances to ancient literature in his Enoch revelations. Other than the limited few unique and typically loose parallels found in 1 Enoch (which was unlikely to have been available to Joseph Smith is unlikely to have encountered in any detail), the texts that would have been required for a nineteenth-century author to derive significant parts of Moses 6–7 had neither been discovered by Western scholars nor translated into English. Moreover, even if other relevant traditions outside the Enoch literature (e.g., Masonic or hermetic traditions) had been available to Joseph Smith by 1830, they would not have provided the Prophet with the suite of specific and sometimes peculiar details that are shared by Moses 6–7 and pseudepigrapha like 2 Enoch, 3 Enoch, and the Book of Giants.
But it is not merely the mass of disparate details from the ancient world that attracts us to the Enoch account in the Book of Moses, but rather the beauty, truth, and coherence of the story as a whole. How on earth could Joseph Smith, left to his own devices, have actually accomplished what so few others of his time might have even dared to attempt? Referring to the translation of the Book of Mormon, which in several ways is analogous to the translation of the Book of Moses, Hugh Nibley describes the wonder of it all:
A Victor Hugo or an Anatole France can tell a convincing story when he is near to his own land and time, but let any writer, even the most learned, slip back a couple of thousand years and a few thousand miles around the globe, and he finds himself in a treacherous terrain from which the only escape lies in taking to the wings of fantasy. … [The author of Moses 6-7] imparts his information in such simple, effortless, and matter-of-fact discourse that the reader easily overlooks the vast amount of detail that is woven into the natural and uncomplicated pattern. What writer of historical fiction has ever remotely approached such an achievement?
This article was adapted in part from Bradshaw, Jeffrey M., and Ryan Dahle. “Could Joseph Smith have drawn on ancient manuscripts when he translated the story of Enoch? Recent updates on a persistent question (4 October 2019).” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019): 305–373.
Bradshaw, Jeffrey M., and David J. Larsen. Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel. In God’s Image and Likeness 2. Salt Lake City, UT: The Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books, 2014, pp. 467–477 (Annotated bibliography on Enoch pseudepigrapha. Colby Townsend was the lead author of the section on 1 Enoch).
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Notwithstanding the unrivaled prominence and antiquity of the Book of Giants at Qumran, the first reflex of some scholars is to attribute any resemblances to 1 Enoch to “borrowing” from the latter source. However, caution should be exercised in concluding a straightforward dependence of the Book of Giants on 1 Enoch. For example, comparing Ezekiel 1, Daniel 7, 1 Enoch 14, and the Book of Giants, A. M. Davis Bledsoe, Throne Theophanies, p. 85 argues that 1 Enoch 14’s adoption of the Danielic idea of the deity shows only that this idea was “accepted even at a late period, and does not automatically make [1 Enoch 14] older even if the tradition may be observed in generally more ancient writings.” More generally, ibid., p. 90 concludes “that all three of these texts drew from a common tradition(s) regarding the heavenly throne and then adapted it to fit within their individual context.”
Regarding Angel’s thesis that the Book of Giants, as we have it, reflects “the realities of life under Hellenistic imperial occupation,” the author himself hints at more ancient and complex roots for the story (J. L. Angel, Humbling, p. 80):
[T]here are hints in the Book of Giants that signal a more nuanced and developed plot. The giants argue with one another and there are perhaps different factions among them. Thus, if I am correct that the Book of Giants models the humbling of Hellenistic figures of power, it seems that the composition now before us preserves only the remains of a complex allegory, whose original referents cannot be recovered.
For more on the impact of the Septuagint on later traditions and on interactions among related Jewish and Greek conceptions of the “giants,” see M. Tuval, Giants in the Jewish Literature; S. Newington, Greek Titans. For Mesopotamian influences in descriptions of the “giants” in 1 Enoch, see H. Drawnel, Mesopotamian Background.
Ibid., p. 18 further proposes that “the sons of God are in fact [identical with] the giants mentioned in [Genesis 6:4], whereas the ‘heroes’ [i.e., gibborim] described at the end of the story are the results of these giants’ [i.e., the nephilim] coupling with the daughters of man.” While it may well be that the gibborim were the descendants of these mixed marriages and while the Book of Moses agrees with Grossman’s conclusion that the nephilim (aka “sons of God”) were not divine nor even “especially close to God” (ibid., p. 10) — the rationale for the latter conclusion differs, as we discuss in Insight #6.
In practical terms this means that one would expect significant resemblances to Moses 6-7 in 1 Enoch be eight times more numerous than in the Book of Giants. In actuality, however, the parallels in 1 Enoch are far less dense and generally less relevant than those in the Book of Giants, especially if one excludes 1 Enoch Book of Parables where some of the most important and singular resemblances occur. Not also that a good proportion of the resemblances between the Book of Giants and the Book of Moses are unique while many of the resemblances in 1 Enoch are also found in the Book of Giants.