Section 104

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.

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20 Responses to Section 104

  1. It’s a shame it didn’t take longer to unmask the code names. I’d love to have seen what Nibley did with these documents.

  2. Trevor says:

    This is a very significant point, and I hope you continue to pursue it. I believe it constitutes a major key toward understanding Joseph Smith’s methods and his scriptural productions.

  3. Brandon P says:

    Runtu,
    Thanks for posting this information about Section 104. The analysis is excellent.

  4. Lamanite says:

    You know John, I often wonder if the widow from Tonga who has only access to the Bible in Tongan knows more than I do that He lives. She has no commentaries to read. Their is no Internet on her farm; and yet there is something about her that is enviable. A simple faith unclouded by the distractions of this which are of no consequence.

    To be sure, we should collect the books and mount them on the mantle like trophies for lesser human beings to view, all the while I know, that their is no way the Elders Quorum Pres know as much about the subject matter than I do. I know thats pride, but I’m spiritually immature.

    Reading is good. By study an by faith and all that. But really just loving other people and trying to be better today than I was yesterday, is a wonderful start.

    Big UP!

    Lamanite

  5. runtu says:

    Sione,

    A simple faith is one thing, but an unexamined one is an entirely different thing. You don’t need to believe in dogmas and revelations and commandments to love other people and be better every day. I share the same goal you do: I want to focus on love and improving our human condition. But it’s a character flaw that I find Joseph Smith and his religion so darn interesting.

  6. Lamanite says:

    You know, I should quit writing blog posts’ after eating “Benzos”, WTF was that?!?! Anyway, you get the point.

    After reading and reading and reading, I’ve come to a conclusion. The scriptures are the best commentary on the scriptures. I’m tired of McKonie, Gardner, Millet, et al. I just want to sit alone in my Den and soak up what these books have to offer. Now, we may argue about horses, and cement, and whatever else; but we could talk about the deep love the “character” Alma the Younger had for his fellow men.

    It’s the same when I read the Bhagavad Gita. That’s good stuff man. I just finished the Qur’an…and I’m being totally honest when I say that it made me a better man and Christian.

    I know I’m naive. I just want so badly for us to all get along and for all of us to take whatever truth we

  7. Lamanite says:

    Continued from above…..

    have and celebrate it. If it makes you better then light one up and praise God. Then I’ll read what you got. You read what I got. We can talk about the good things within both.

    Let’s say Joseph was mistaken, deceitful, or just a little crazy. What he began (I’m taking the position that there is no divinity in the work) has flourished into something absolutely wonderful. It has its flaws. It has its problems. But who doesn’t. We’re all down here just trying to get by and bring a little happiness into our lives and hopefully into the lives of others.

    My reading of the Qur’an has lead me to believe Muhammed was inspired in one way or another. There is tremendous good that comes from Islam. Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, et al., all have at their core, a mission to bring happiness to a world that is more often that not pretty fucked up. But their is always small and large events within all religions that makes us shake our heads in shame or disbelief.

    I go back to the Tongan Widow. She sits alone reading a Bible. She has barely enough to survive, but she’s content. She believes Jesus lived and died for her sins. She believes he was resurrected and lives today. She believes Joseph smith was a Prophet and she believes the Book of Mormon is a record of real people. And all these beliefs have made her better. Better Mother, Sister, Daughter, and Neighbor.

    Should we shove the red pill down her throat? If so, she may gladly take it without consequence. It may be that she, through a wonderfully simple faith, has been unplugged all the while; and it is you that is stuck in a Matrix of disillusionment and doubt.

    I don’t know all the answers. I do know that if you and I seek to love, and I mean truly love those within our circle of influence, then all will be well. Because when He comes again, we will be like Him. LOL, I had to through that in.

    Nuff Respect,

    Lamanite

  8. Aubuchon says:

    Lamanite,
    Thanks for the tongan widow. I love the image of seeing her quietly reading the scriptures and of her beliefs and love for them. It is what we do with what we have. When our faith makes us a better person, like it made her a better Mother, Sister, Daughter, Neigbor that is what is important. I also agree with reading the scriptures is the best commentary on the scriptures. Just like faith understanding the words of God is individual.

  9. runtu says:

    I’ve said it before that if it works for you, that’s enough. For me, it matters if it’s true, but I respect that other people have a different approach than I do.

  10. Lamanite,

    I enjoyed reading your comments. Should you decide to start reading again, I think you might find a great deal to admire in the works of John Hick or Paul Knitter.

    Best,

    -Chris

  11. Bull says:

    You know, I have to disagree with Lamanite about the goals of the various religions. I think that they have much more to do with exerting control over people than they do with trying to make the world a better place. In fact, it seems like they have been the justification behind doing incredibly terrible things throughout history. I just don’t see that they have much to offer the world that isn’t already freely available without them.

  12. Lamanite says:

    To be clear, I’m not the Tongan widow, with faith simple enough to just believe. I have found that in order for me to be at peace, I must find reconciliation between the heart and the mind. From the beginning that has made Mormonism a unique challenge. I just can’t help but be honest about that part of my personal theology. That should also say a great deal about my day to day decision to stay within the fold.

    As for Bull’s comments. I can agree that the altruistic aspects found within religion are readily available without it. One need not have religion to help the fatherless plant their garden or rake their leaves. One need not have religion to offer words of solace and comfort to the down trodden.

    I’m happy to work side by side with any and all people that want to make this world just a little better.

    I’ve been reading a lot of Physics lately. The immensity of space and time has never seemed so infinitely Massive. I pondered my place in that great expanse on my front porch the other night, and laughed out loud that I actually believe that a God who governs Cosmic clocks and galaxies, actually cares about me. But at that moment He spoke peace to my soul and I understood with a surety that He did. What commentary or evidence, or empirical data can I provide but my own testimony that that was my very very real experiences? None. So we just go on doing the best we can, and hopefully share some of what we have with those who may not have had any. As a Mormon I honestly think we should cancel Church after Sacrament and go help people who really need it.

    That’s why I don’t run the Church 🙂

    Big UP my heathen friends, LOL

    Lamanite

    P.S. Tell me more about Hick and Knitter.

  13. Lamanite says:

    P.S. I posted new Thanksgiving Pic’s of me and the fam John and http://www.paunifam.blogspot.com

  14. runtu says:

    Great pictures, Lamanite. What a beautiful family you have.

  15. Lamanite says:

    you didn’t mention how handsome I was with two glowing balls and a phallic symbol dangling from my jeans 😉

  16. runtu says:

    OK, now you’re scaring me. 🙂

  17. Hick and Knitter are religious pluralists. Both men self-identify as Christians and believe that God is revealed through Christ and in the Christian religion, but non-exclusively. He is also revealed in other religions and even in the secular sphere. The goal of religion is transformation from self-centeredness to other-centeredness and transcendent-centeredness. Christians call this salvation; Buddhists call it Nirvana; these are metaphors and symbols that engage us in concrete processes leading to transformation. I was skeptical at first, but upon reading and thinking more I think there is real merit in this perspective. Actually, my personal favorite is Carl Jung’s book Psychology and Religion. But his idea of God might be a little too deistic/non-interventionist for most people’s taste.

  18. Lamanite says:

    Chris,

    I believe there is one true Church. And that Church/path is whatever God tells you it is.

    As a Mormon, I can invite all those within my circle of influence to come and partake of something that brings me great joy and happiness. And if they decline, then we discuss the Jazz of some imported beer.

    Seriously though, I believe one day; every knee will bend, and every tongue confess-that Jesus is the Christ. That’s just something I believe. To try and put billions of people with an infinite number of variables into a single mold is ludicrous. But you can bet your ass if tomorrow a shiny white guy wearing a red robe comes flying out of the sky on a white horse, no matter what your religious or non religious affiliation is, you’ll hit the dirt.

    So I’m happy people are making positive transformations by whatever means they possess. Maybe I’m a religious pluralist where in the end when God observes us and then the probability wave collapses upon itself and all of us are found to be good little Mormon children waiting to be ushered into the Celestial Kingdom.

    I’d like to read these guys. Any of their works available to me?

    Big UP Chris

    Sione

  19. Hi Lamanite,

    None of their works are online, if that’s what you mean. But it would be simple enough to grab a copy of Knitter’s No Other Name. Amazon has it used starting at $2.99. The nice thing about that book is that it gives a really good overview of all the different kinds of pluralism, and then proposes a self-consciously Christian that takes into account, among other things, the findings of biblical criticism.

    The goal is not to shove all religions into one mold. Differences and even contradictions are taken quite seriously. It is suggested that in some cases other people may have something to learn from you, and in other cases you may have something to learn from other people. At the end of the day it is hoped that through dialogue and cooperation the religions will forge agreement in some areas and find they have more in common than not in other areas. Certainly the religions need to find some ground for unity and togetherness in the midst of their difference, because without it the world’s getting shot all to hell.

    As I said, I was skeptical at first. As an evangelical undergraduate I wrote a paper against John Hick that was very harshly critical of what I perceived to be his relativism and his attack on the Christian faith. Three or so years later, my perspective has changed radically. These guys are worth reading, if for no other reason than that they are intelligent, reasoned, Christian proponents of a view that we often think of as little more than a popular New-Age fad.

  20. The end of that third sentence should read, “a self-consciously Christian pluralism that takes into account, among other things, the findings of biblical criticism.”

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