I’m still trying to wrap my brain around section 104 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Until yesterday, I thought it was just a run-of-the-mill revelation describing the distribution of church properties to the leadership after the failure of the Kirtland and Missouri United Orders. I knew about the code names used in the revelation–“Ahashdah for [Newel] Whitney, Olilah for Cowdery, Pelagorum for Rigdon, Mahemson for [Martin] Harris, and Gazelam for [Joseph Smith]” (NMKMH, p.141), but what I didn’t know was that for forty years, the revelation was presented as an ancient revelation to the prophet Enoch, he who, along with his people, was taken up to heaven because of his righteousness.
In the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, the heading for the section reads, “Revelation given to Enoch, concerning the order of the church for the benefit of the poor.” Never mind that in its original incarnation in the 1833 Book of Commandments, the revelation was actually about consecrating all your property and entering into the United Order. The membership was not told that this revelation had anything to do with the modern church. As Fawn Brodie explains, “Except for a few leaders who knew better, the Mormons believed these to be the names of people living in the days of Enoch” (Ibid., p. 141). And it wasn’t until the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants that the Church revealed the truth behind the revelation (and removed the reference to its being a revelation given to Enoch). The revised intro tells us that it is a “Revelation given to Joseph Smith the Prophet, April 23, 1834, concerning the United Order, or the order of the Church for the benefit of the poor.”
So, why does this interest me so much? To me, the parallels to Joseph’s other revelations are obvious and instructive. Originally, the prophet was content to let the people believe that this was an ancient record, like the alleged translation of a revelation given to John the Beloved and written on parchment (see the introduction to section 7 of the Doctrine and Covenants). But it also has clear implications for the validity of Joseph’s major “translations.” Here are some parallels I think are important:
1. The text claims to be a revelation given to an ancient prophet. This is true of the Book of Abraham, the Book of Moses, and the Book of Mormon.
2. The text uses ancient-sounding personal names (Pelagoram, Mahemson) just as the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham do.
3. The text uses ancient-sounding place names, some of which overlap with Book of Abraham place names (Shinehah, for example).
The difference, then, is that this revelation never was a revelation to Enoch, and the church later acknowledged that to the membership at large. But for forty years or so, members were told that it was an ancient revelation.
One wonders what the apologists would be doing if the revelation had continued to be presented as ancient. Would they have been trying to find Near Eastern etymologies for “Mahemson” and “Laneshine”? Would they have looked for parallels between the transfer of “Zombre’s” inheritance and Abrahamic traditions?
To me, this revelation is a touchstone for apologetics. The only reason the apologists make no attempt to rationalize this revelation as ancient is that we know it isn’t ancient. There’s no need to decipher “shinelah” or “Ozondah” because Joseph Smith invented them.