07 January 2014

Science and the Book of Genesis Part 5

Lesson Five: There Is More in These Chapters Than Meets the Eye

The more I study the scriptures, the more I have learned to trust them. When I come to a puzzling verse, I do not automatically assume the passage is wrong, because there have been many times that further study has shown me that I was wrong in my initial assumptions or conclusions.

I ran into such a problem when David Larsen and I were studying the call of Enoch in the book of Moses, a topic that had been explored insightfully by Stephen Ricks.

Curiously, the closest biblical parallel to the wording of the opening verses of this passage is not to be found in the call of any Old Testament prophet but rather in the New Testament description of events following Jesus’ baptism. The detailed resemblances between Moses 6:26-27 and the accounts of the baptism of Jesus seemed an obvious case of borrowing from the Gospels by Joseph Smith. However, as I studied and prayed about the issue, as a result what I consider to be a process of inspiration, I came across an obscure article by Samuel Zinner. Zinner compares Hebrews 1:5-6 to passages relating to the father’s declaration of sonship at the baptism of Jesus in the Gospel of the Ebionites and the Gospel of the Hebrews. He also notes that the motifs of “rest” and “reigning” co-occur in these three texts as well as in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas. Finally, he argues for a “striking isomorphism” shared between 1 Enoch and the baptismal allusion in the Gospel of the Ebionites in a promise made by Enoch to the righteous: “and a bright light will shine upon you, and the voice of rest you will hear from heaven.”

In light of these (and additional passages relating these themes to the personage of the “Son of Man”), Zinner argues that the ideas behind all these passages “arose in an Enochic matrix.” In other words, the words from Joseph Smith’s writings on Enoch that I thought had been derived from the New Testament were thought instead by Zinner to have originated in ancient Enoch traditions that eventually made their way into the New Testament. Hence, the unexpected parallel to Jesus’ baptism in the book of Moses account of the calling of Enoch — which in a cursory analysis might have been looked upon as an obvious anachronism — is a passage with plausible Enochic affinities and possible Enochic origins.

More of a puzzle from a scientific perspective is the Tower of Babel story. On the one hand, the details of the Babylonian setting and construction techniques check out quite plausibly, even if the time frame for the story is difficult to pin down. On the other hand, in light of what is known about evolutionary linguistics the story of the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel seems patently ridiculous.

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