CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

CESNUR 2006 International Conference
July 13-16, 2006
San Diego State University, San Diego, California
Religion, Globalization, and Conflict: International Perspectives

Accounting for One Enoch in Religious Literature: Beowulf, the Book of Moses and LDS Apologetics

by Daniel HADLEY

A paper presented at the CESNUR 2006 International Conference. Please do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author


Perhaps the most well known and well respected Mormon scholar is the late Hugh Nibley.  Nibley’s erudition and faith have inspired a new generation of Mormon apologists.  In turn, their work has buttressed faithful Latter Day Saints against the research of Nibley’s detractors.  This paper outlines a debate between scholars over the historicity of the Book of Moses, a volume in the LDS cannon.  That debate is compared to similar debates that took place in the field of literary criticism.  The point is to provide a case study of LDS apologetic scholarship by contrasting it to non-biblical literary criticism.  

“Milton?” said Pococurante; “that barbarian who made a tedious commentary on the first chapter of Genesis in ten books of rugged verse?  That clumsy imitator of the Greeks?”

- Candide[1] 

Paradise Lost excited different and far deeper emotions.  I read it … as a true history.  It moved every feeling of wonder and awe, that the picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of exciting

 - The Monster of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein[2]  

Hugh Nibley made an important contribution to LDS scriptural studies with his article series, “A Strange Thing in the Land: the Return of the Book of Enoch.”[3]  For the first time, Nibley called attention to parallels between ancient Enochic texts and the Book of Moses account of Enoch: the works resemble each other despite that the Enochic texts are pseudepigraphal creations from the late intertestamental period whereas the Book of Moses is a nineteenth-century revelation which Joseph Smith claimed to receive while working on a new translation of the Bible.  Nibley argued that apparent similarities between ancient Enochic texts and the LDS scriptures are convincing evidence that Smith was a prophet.  Nibley’s work was groundbreaking and became a flagship study in LDS apologetics.  However, Nibley’s study was not without some precedent in academia.  When Nibley began publishing the articles now republished in a book titled Enoch the Prophet, R.E. Kaske’s “Beowulf and the Book of Enoch” was already four years old.  Kaske’s work may, or may not have influenced Nibley’s research.  This paper will not attempt to establish a connection between the two studies.  Instead, it will use parallels between Nibley and Kaske to explore larger issues of Mormon scholarship and apologetics.

The first noticeable similarity between Nibley’s work and that of Kaske is the relative importance both give to their subjects’ possession of Enochic texts.  Nibley’s thesis was largely dependent on whether or not Joseph Smith had direct contact with an 1821 English translation of the pseudepigraphal I Enoch.  Nibley claimed that Smith was almost certainly unfamiliar with I Enoch during the time that he claimed to receive the Book of Moses as a revelation from God.  Therefore, Nibley argued, parallels between the account of Enoch in the Book of Moses and more ancient accounts, such as that found in I Enoch, can only be ascribed to Smith’s access to revelation.  In other words, Smith and the author of I Enoch had the same divine direction while compiling their accounts. Unlike Nibley, Kaske found a source which he used to explain similarities between the epic poem “Beowulf” and Enochic writings.  He began his paper in much the same way Nibley does: both describe scenarios in which the Book of Enoch is taken out of circulation after influencing early Christian thought.  The next task for both scholars is to determine how Enochic elements reappear after having been lost to the mainstream. Kaske accounts for I Enoch in Beowulf by suggesting that a Latin translation had crossed the poet’s path:

By happy chance… a manuscript in the British Museum contains a twenty-five-line fragment of what was evidently a Latin translation of the Book of Enoch; and by still happier chance, this manuscript seems to have originated in England during the eighth century.  This slender remnant, pointing strongly to the availability of the Book of Enoch in Latin somewhere in England and during the probable century of Beowulf, will allow us to take seriously any convincing parallels that can be found between the two works.[4]

Kaske is able to analyze similarities between Beowulf’s Grendel and the Giants of I Enoch as a result of his discovery.  Had it not been for the Enoch fragments found in the British Museum, it is doubtful that Kaske would have published.  Note that Kaske considers parallels between Beowulf and I Enoch only after finding an Enochic text.   Nibley, on the other hand, found strength in arguing that Smith was without an Enochic text because it confirmed to him that revelation was essential to the production of the Book of Moses. 

In this example of contrasting paradigms, Nibley and Kaske are dealing with some of the same subject material and asking the same fundamental questions about textual syncretism. However, despite these commonalities, Nibley’s belief in revelation causes him to use entirely different premises and reach a conclusion which would be foreign to the study of Beowulf.  The extra element of revelation – the charismatic claims of modern prophets – has always been a decisive factor in Mormon studies.  In the past, as in the debates over Enoch, scholarship which addresses Joseph Smith’s revelatory powers has tended to be dichotomized.  There are those who generally acknowledge providential assistance in Smith’s work as a prophet, and those who refute the notion that he was capable of receiving direct revelation from God.  With the addition of numerous subcategories, these two groups represent most of the academic attention to early Mormonism.  The latter group will often seek alternate explanations for the origins of scripture credited to Smith.  This dialectic is especially present in sociological approaches to revelation, LDS historical studies and in the continual debate over the veracity of the Book of Mormon.[5]

Phillip Barlow understood the dichotomy among academics, although he counted three major groups and then placed himself in a fourth vis-à-vis his theory on the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.  Barlow begins his paper by defining the three most prevalent characterizations of Smith.  “Either he was a prophet in the almost fundamentalist sense,” Barlow writes, “or he was a charlatan as many others have judged, or else he was a mentally deranged charismatic.”[6]  He then proceeds to examine the Joseph Smith revision of the Bible, and concludes by introducing his fourth category.  Admittedly, the fourth category given by Barlow is difficult to place.  As he put it, “I do not intend to judge here either Smith’s revelations or his use of the Bible.”[7]  Barlow makes no implications about possible source materials for Smith’s addition of Enoch to the Book of Moses.  And, although Barlow rejects the notion that Smith’s changes to the Bible reflect antiquity, he is able to reconcile those changes with his own understanding of Smith’s prophetic calling.  To Barlow, the changes indicate that Smith viewed himself as having similar authority to the ancient prophets who wrote the biblical texts.  One is left to wonder if the authority that Smith felt was legitimate: did it come from God?  Like Jan Shipps, whom Barlow placed outside of all existent categories because she deliberately avoids conclusions about the authenticity of Smith’s prophetic calling, Barlow never makes explicit judgments about the legitimacy of the Joseph Smith Translation.[8] 

A Second Example

Kaske and Nibley were not alone among twentieth-century scholars exploring the appearance of Enochic elements in later texts.  Long before either Kaske or Nibley began writing about Enoch, the Harvard Theological Review published a debate which incorporated some of the same arguments both scholars later used.  This earlier debate began in 1938 with an article by Grant McColley titled “The Book of Enoch and Paradise Lost.”  McColley’s article made his initial argument that John Milton was likely familiar with all, or parts of I Enoch at the time of Paradise Lost.  As he put it: “There were few, if any, writers of the mid-seventeenth century who would be more likely to desire and in better position to obtain information concerning I Enoch than the Poet of Paradise Lost.  It is therefore in point to seek in Milton’s epic evidence of direct and indirect contact with the book.”[9]  Although McColley listed evidence for his position, a subsequent article (published in 1940 in the same journal) caused McColley to reconsider Milton’s possible sources.  In “Milton and the Book of Enoch: An Alternate Hypothesis,” Arnold Williams argued that Milton did not have access to I Enoch:

There is a tendency in Milton Scholarship to exaggerate the scholarly achievements of the great poet… It is not well to forget that Milton was a practical man of affairs and a poet in addition to being a scholar…  It would then be unfortunate should any construe Mr. McColley as suggesting that Milton possessed information unknown to competent theologians of his day, whose life work it was to know documents, published or in manuscript, bearing in any way on the interpretation of the Scriptures[10]

The remainder of Williams’ article is devoted to quotes from Milton’s contemporaries who were ignorant of I Enoch.  McColley was convinced by Williams’ argument that the parallels between I Enoch and Paradise Lost could not be attributed to a specific Enochic text in Milton’s possession.  As a result, McColley went searching for alternate explanations, and “made substantial progress in showing Renaissance sources for great blocks of material in Paradise Lost.”[11]   Like in the example of Beowulf, Williams and McColley never considered revelation to be a component in the construction of Paradise Lost.  No one has ever published a “fundamentalist” reading of Milton’s epics.  However, unlike Beowulf, issues of revelation are not foreign to Miltonian studies, and the notion that Milton may have been divinely inspired was at least conceivable.[12]  Milton’s references to a heavenly muse, sometimes read as a representation of the Godhead, was his way of suggesting that he narrated Paradise Lost with the aid of charismatic inspiration.[13]  Therefore, an exegesis incorporating revelation would have been justifiable. But, in part because revelation never was a factor in their argument, Williams and McColley were able to unite their views about the origins of Enochic material in Paradise Lost.

Conversely, scholars interested in the Book of Moses have reached a wide variety of conclusions and disagree on several points of the text.  Notions of revelation in the Book of Moses are controversial because of their theological significance.  To acquiesce that Smith was divinely inspired in his translations is tantamount to identifying with the common LDS position.  The only alternative options, it would seem, are either to consider the translations inspired in a more mundane sense (i.e., a Jungian archetype or something like the Barlow position), to view them as anachronistic pseudepigrapha, or to suspend judgments about their origin in order to evaluate their content.  The last approach – a synchronic rather than diachronic historical-critical reading of the text – could be useful on the level of literary or theological analysis, but it does little to solve the questions of whether or not the text is a legitimate history.  Currently, scholars’ opinions are polarized and many questions remain about the Enochic material in Smith’s narrative, including the most fundamental questions of whether or not Smith used I Enoch as a source.  Nibley used the same basic framework of theoretical evidence as Williams to make similar points about the availability of I Enoch to their respective subjects; yet, many scholars remain unconfident in Nibley’s findings:

Did Joseph Smith really have no access to 1 Enoch, or is it easier to believe that like Jude, he accessed and used Enochic literature in the formation of the Book of Moses? Second, are the parallels between 1 Enoch and the Enochic material found in the Book of Moses and the Joseph Smith Translation strong enough to prove that Joseph Smith was inspired in writing the Book of Moses? Or, did Joseph Smith know 1 Enoch and simply used it in the formation of the Book of Moses?[14]

In the absence of indisputable positive answers, these types of questions will continue to create sharp debates in academia.  A brief table of theories, as well as responses to those theories, will illustrate the major arguments that have been published to date:  



1) D. Michael Quinn originally agreed with Nibley that Smith was without access to I Enoch;[15] however, after revisions in his Early Mormonism book, Quinn argued that Smith “had close access” to the 1821 translation of I Enoch.[16]

1) Richard Bushman conceded that the close appearance of an English translation of I Enoch to the Book of Moses is a “curiosity,” but maintained that it is “scarcely conceivable” that Smith knew of I Enoch at the time of his narrative.[17]

2) John Brooke wrote that Smith was aided by Sidney Rigdon in creating an addition to the Genesis story that was “directly analogous to Masonic myths.”[18]

2) A FARMS review argued that Brooke’s analogies were inferior to analogies, discovered by Nibley, between LDS scripture and “ancient sources.”  [ such as I Enoch] [19]

3) Anthony Hutchinson observed that “Enoch seemed rooted in Joseph’s concerns of the period,” and that parallels to ancient Enoch legends are “unconnected to any parallel biblical prototype text.”[20]

3) Kevin Christensen felt Hutchinson focused on the mundane, and therefore “shortchanges Joseph.”  Like other apologists, Christensen argues that Nibley’s parallels are superior to those proposed by Hutchinson.

4) Harold Bloom was uncertain if Smith read I Enoch, but “hardly [thought] that written sources were necessary for many of Smith’s imaginings.”[21]

4) *Not Challenged




5) Douglas Salmon asserted that Nibley made several errors in his book, Enoch the Prophet, and that these errors represent a misuse (or abuse) of parallels to prove the historicity of LDS Scripture.[22] 

6) William Hamblin challenged Salmon’s assertions and rejected his theses, calling them “contra Nibley,” “faulty methodology seeking faulty methodology” and “Parallelomania run wild.”[23]


Although sides of the dichotomy do not appear as a function of faith held by the several scholars, the overall result is that the “theory” side contains ideas which run contrary to traditional accounts of revelation and translation, and scholars on the “response” side tend to be more orthodox and apologetic in their writing.[24]

In summary, there is a large group of LDS scholars interested in substantiating the historicity of scripture said to have been translated by Joseph Smith.  In practical terms, this means that LDS apologists are disposed to respond negatively to high-profile work that imbues LDS scripture with mundane origins.  Harold Bloom wrote, “I can think of only a handful of my contemporaries who are inwardly free to write about ancient religious texts without manifesting their own spiritual persuasions.”[25]  Like Bloom’s contemporaries, LDS scholars are often persuaded by their religious beliefs as they write about aspects of the LDS church and cannon.  Similarly, there are several scholars outside, or on the fringes of the LDS church who hold agnostic, anti-Mormon, radically secular, or unorthodox viewpoints that color their writing.  Both groups of scholars carry certain assumptions into their research.  That is not to say that relative objectivity is impossible or that one’s position relative to the church determines his or her viewpoints, but traces of subjectivity do help to account for the dialectic found in LDS studies. 

Most academics interested in LDS topics expect that a controversial book in Mormon studies will receive a critical FARMS review.  That is part of the role of FARMS (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies) as well as the larger BYU (Brigham Young University) community of which it is a part.  As far as I’m aware, nothing similar to FARMS operates within the community of Milton or Beowulf critics, for example.[26]  That does not mean that epics like Beowulf or Milton’s Paradise Lost do not share certain characteristics with other sacred literature such as the Book of Moses.  But it does mean that the academic environment is substantially different between disciplines, even when the subject matter is so similar.  The debates over Enochic material in the LDS scriptures can be viewed as a microcosm of the larger scripture wars – the intellectual battle between believers and non-believers to influence the way Mormons read their texts.  A similar dialectic does not exist outside of the study of scriptural texts.            

LDS apologists are highly invested in their work, and they have a dedication to the books they defend that transcends professional and academic boundaries.  Their faith, as well as the faith of countless Mormon intellectuals, is strengthened by their academic defense of the scriptures.[27]  In reference to the Book of Mormon, one critical scholar concluded that it would be difficult to reconcile apologetic and critical assumptions about scripture; then, perhaps ironically, a FARMS review challenged his use of the word apologist, as well as other points he made in his paper.[28]    Craig Hazen, an Evangelical scholar, has found that the “apologetic impulse” of today’s LDS academics is rooted in some of the earliest Mormon intellectual traditions.[29]  During the nineteenth century, Mormons used logic to defend their faith against the intellectual attacks of outsiders.  Both Mormons and their critics were products of the larger post-enlightenment debates that were taking place between religious apologists and an emerging class of rationalist skeptics.  Those debates continued throughout the twentieth-century and into the present, albeit with increasingly sophisticated methods.  In Mormonism, the tradition of defending scriptural accounts was carried on by a line of thinkers from B.H. Roberts, to Hugh Nibley.  FARMS, as well as several layperson internet sites dutifully continue to defend orthodox Mormon positions.  Frequent apologetic responses are not likely to cease anytime soon either – nor should apologists feel obliged to stop defending their positions on scripture.  Quinn believes, and I agree, that someday the current debates will be a subject for history books: “Years from now, other historians may assess these chasms and conflicts with greater detachment and insight than any of us can at present.”[30] 

[1] Voltaire, Candide, translated by John Butt (London: Penguin Books, 1947), 122.

[2] Mary Shelly, Frankenstein (New York: Dover Publications Inc, 1994), 92.

[3] Nibley’s article series ran in Ensign magazine from October 1975 to August 1977 and has since been republished in Enoch the Prophet, Stephen D. Ricks ed., CWHN Vol. 2 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986).

[4] R.E. Kaske, “Beowulf and the Book of Enoch,” Speculum: a Journal of Medieval Studies 46 no. 3 (1971), 423.

[5] See for example Richard L. Bushman, “Faithful History,” Believing History: Latter-Day Saint Essays, ed. Reid L. Neilson and Jed Woodworth (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 11. Brent Lee Metcalfe, “Apologetic and Critical Assumptions about Book of Mormon Historicity,” Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought 26 no. 3 (1993), 153-84.  Rodney Stark and Reid L. Neilson, The Rise of Mormonism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 32-35.  Newell G. Bringhurst, “Fawn McKay Brodie: Dissident Historian and Quintessential Critic of Mormondom,” Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History, ed. Roger D. Launius and Linda Thatcher (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 279-300.  Carl Mosser and Paul Owen, “Mormon Apologetic Scholarship and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?” Trinity Journal 19, no. 2 (1998), 179-205.  Ronald W Walker, David J Whittaker, James B Allen, Mormon History (Chicago: University of Illinoios Press, 2001), 60-112.

[6] Phillip L. Barlow, “Joseph Smith’s Revision of the Bible: Fraudulent, Pathologic, or Prophetic?” The Harvard Theological Review 83 no. 1 (1990), 45.

[7] Ibid., 61.

[8] Elsewhere Barlow mentions, “readers have a right to know, first, that I am a practicing Mormon, and second, that I have on many issues a greater personal sympathy for liberal than for conservative religious expressions.”  Phillip L. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: the Place of Latter Days Saints in American Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), xviii. 

[9] Grant McColley, “The Book of Enoch and Paradise Lost,” The Harvard Theological Review 31 no. 1 (1938) 24.

[10] Arnold Williams, “Milton and the Book of Enoch: An Alternate Hypothesis,” The Harvard Theological Review 33 no. 4 (1940) 292.

[11] Ibid., 299.

[12] Many literary critics have been interested in Milton’s prophetic self-identity.  John Hill wrote: “In the years 1641-60 Milton's relationship with his God grew closer than it had ever been, and through the prose there reigns the deepening conviction that he has been marked for special service as God's spokesman to the nation--like Isaiah and Jeremiah he has been called as a prophet of the Lord.” John Spencer Hill, John Milton: Poet, Priest and Prophet: a Study of the Divine Vocation in Milton’s Poetry and Prose, (London: Macmillon, 1979), 77.  See also, John M. Steadman, “Milton’s Sacral Poetics,” The Journal of Religion 64 no. 1 (1984) 101-106.

[13] Stevie Davies and William B. Hunter, “Milton’s Urania: ‘The Meaning not the Name I Call,’” Studies in English Literature,1500 -1900 28 no. 1 (1988), 95-96.

[14] Cory D. Anderson, “Jude’s Use of the Pseudepigraphal Book of One Enoch,” Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought 36 no. 2 (2003), 64.

[15] D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books 1987), 150.

[16] Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998), 224.

[17] Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 138.

[18] John L. Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire: the Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 196.

[19] William J Hamblin, Daniel C. Peterson, and George L. Mitton, “Mormons in the Fiery Furnace or, Loftes Tryke Goes to Cambridge” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies 6 no. 2, (1994), 3-58.

[20] Anthony A. Hutchinson, “A Mormon Midrash? LDS Creation Narratives Reconsidered,” Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought 21 no. 4, (1998), 59.  

[21] Harold Bloom, The American Religion (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), 100.

[22] Douglas F. Salmon, “Parallelomania and the Study of Latter Day Scripture: Confirmation, Coincidence, or the Collective Unconscious?”  Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought 33 no. 2 (2000), 131-144.

[23] William Hamblin, “An Apologist for the Critics: Brent Lee Metcalfe’s Assumptions and Methodologies,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies 6 no. 1, (1994), 434-523.

[24] By Daniel C. Peterson’s own admission, FARMS, as an organization, has a polemic bent; see “Editor’s Introduction: of Polemics,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies 6 no. 2, (1994), V-IX.  Conversely, Bushman’s tone has consistently been devoid of polemics.  Despite these different nuances, all scholars on the “response” side would be considered orthodox by most LDS leadership; see “the Mormon Odyssey,” Newsweek, October 17 (2005) 58-60.             

[25] Harold Bloom, Jesus and Yahweh: The names divine (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005), 43.

[26] Quinn noticed that “with the exception of BYU Studies, the FARMS Review of Books, and periodicals of fundamentalist schools like Bob Jones University, I know of no academic review that is critical of authors in religious history for acknowledging their disbelief in various faith claims.” Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, xii. 

[27] Most believing LDS would object to the idea that their faith is dependent on a successful academic defense; this is the great paradox of Mormon apologetics!   

[28] Metcalfe, “Apologetic and Critical Assumptions about Book of Mormon Historicity,” 153-84.  And the response: William J Hamblin, “An Apologist for the Critics: Brent Lee Metcalfe’s Assumptions and Methodologies,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies 6 no. 1, (1994), 470.

[29] Craig J. Hazen, “The Apologetic Impulse in Early Mormonism: the Historical Roots of the New Mormon Challenge,” The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast Growing Movement, ed. Francis J Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002) 31-58.  

[30] Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 352.