The Enos problem in the Book of Mormon

Enos is the third author in the Book of Mormon (after Nephi1 and Jacob). He is best known for his lengthy prayer while hunting in the wilderness, wherein he first asks for personal forgiveness, then for God’s blessings upon the Nephites, then His blessings upon the Lamanites, then that a record of the Nephites will be preserved and brought into the Lamantes “at some future day” should the Nephites be destroyed.  So far, so good.

But at the very end of the book of Enos, we find the following:

Enos 1:25: And it came to pass that I began to be old, and an hundred and seventy and nine years had passed away from the time that our father Lehi left Jerusalem.

Enos is apparently identified in Jacob 7:27 as the son of Jacob:

And I, Jacob, saw that I must soon go down to my grave; wherefore, I said unto my son Enos: Take these plates. And I told him the things which my brother Nephi had commanded me, and he promised obedience unto the commands. And I make an end of my writing upon these plates, which writing has been small; and to the reader I bid farewell, hoping that many of my brethren may read my words. Brethren, adieu.

Now, Jacob was Lehi’s “first born in the wilderness” (2 Nephi 2:2), and Jacob was already born when Lehi & company set sail from Bountiful to the New World (cf. 1 Nephi 18:7), and furthermore was born before Joseph, who was also born before embarking. This means that Jacob was born, at the latest, about seven years after Lehi left Jerusalem, and probably a few years before that. Let’s split the difference and say that Jacob was born 4 years after Lehi left Jerusalem.

This means that the lives of Jacob and Enos spanned 175 years. This is not impossible, but it is highly unusual. So let’s look at some possible explanations.

First, we have some date fuzziness to deal with. Jacob dates the start of his record as 55 years after Lehi left Jeursalem (cf. Jacob 1:1) — Jacob at that point would be 51 years old, give or take a few years. But after that start, Jacob never gives another date in his record. Similarly, when Enos starts his record, he does not give any time stamp until the very end, when he’s about to die, at which point it’s 124 years after Jacob started his record.

We also have a bit of fuzziness on the relationship. Jacob clearly talks about giving the records to “my son Enos” (see above), but Enos in his record never once mentions Jacob by name; his only references are to “my father” (Enos 1:1, 3), and those only occur twice.  Here, in fact, is the entire ancestral line as found in the small plates of Nephi:

  • Nephi, of course, talks at great length about Lehi as his father (and Jacob as his brother)
  • Jacob makes two references to Lehi and identifies himself as “the brother of Nephi”; as seen above, he talks about giving the plates to “my son Enos”
  • Enos only references “my father”; he does talk about “our father Lehi” in what appears to be an ancestral sense; he makes no mention of giving the plates to anyone
  • Jarom talks about “my father, Enos” and “my son Omni”
  • Omni taks about “my father Jarom” and “my son Amaron”
  • Amaron, like Enos, merely references “my father”, but then gives the plates “unto my brother Chemish”
  • Chemish references “my brother” and makes no mention of passing the plates along
  • Abinadom identifies himself as “the son of Chemish” and makes no mention of passing the plates along
  • Amaleki identifies himself as “the son of Abinadom” and turns the plates over to King Benjamin

So it’s clear that Jacob had a son named Enos, that someone named Enos wrote the Book of Enos, and that Jarom had a father named Enos. The question is: are these three all the same Enos?

Possiblity #1: they are not the same person. Jacob, in passing the plates to Enos, says that “I told him [Enos] the things which my brother Nephi had commanded me, and he promised obedience unto the commands.” However, when the book of Enos opens, he opens it by talking about “the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my own sins.” He goes through the sequence described above, then becomes a prophet unto the Nephites, calling them to repentance (cf. Enos 1:19). It is not clear that the author of the book of Enos is necessarily the same person to whom Jacob gave the small plates.

Possibility #1a: The author of the book of Enos is actually Jacob’s grandson. It is possible that the actual genealogy is: Jacob -> Enos1 -> Enos2 -> Jarom, with Enos2 being the author of the book of Enos. In this scenario, Enos1 would have received the small plates from Jacob, but died or was killed before writing anything on them. At some point, his son Enos2 has his personal conversion, starts preaching to the Nephites, and only then goes to the small plates and records his experience. In this case, Enos 1:1 is actually Enos2 talking about Enos1. So that’s one possibility, and it makes the 175-year gap far more manageable — Enos2 could have been born years or even decades after Jacob’s death.

[UPDATE 04/09/2009] Note, by the way, that the father-son name sharing pattern shows up later in the Book of Mormon: Alma1->Alma2, Helaman1->Helaman2, and Nephi2->Nephi3. So an Enos1 -> Enos2 naming pattern would be consistent with other parts of the Book of Mormon.

Possibility #1b: as #1a, but it is Enos1 who wrote the book of Enos. In this scenario, Enos2 is the “silent Enos” in the chain. Note that the book of Enos makes no mention of handing the plates to his son or of given any commandment to write upon them, but Jarom specifically talks about “the commandment of my father, Enos, that our genealogy may be kept.”

Possibility #1c: there are actually three individuals named Enos. In this case, the genealogy would be Jacob -> Enos1 -> Enos2 -> Enos3 -> Jarom, with Enos1 receiving the plates from Jacob, Jarom receiving the plates from Enos3, and one of the three Enoses actually writing the book. I consider this the least likely of all the scenarios, and it truly violates Occam’s Razor (“entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity”),  but it’s still possible within the context of the Book of Mormon text itself, and it requires the least pleading on ages and dates.

Possibility #2: they are the same person. Now we’re in a bit of a pinch. As noted, Jacob was 50 or so when he started his book, and Enos ends his book 124 years later. Before Jacob dies, Enos is old enough to have been told about the plates and to remember “the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life and the job of the saints.” So it seems reasonable to assume that Enos is at least 10 years old when Jacob dies. This means that ((Jacob’s age)+(Enos’s age)-10) = 175, which means that (Jacob’s age) + (Enos’s age) = 185. It also requires either that Jacob is very, very old when Enos is born (but then lives another 10 years) or that Enos lives an incredibly long time.  So let’s look at how this might work.

Possibility #2a: Enos is actually Jacob’s grandson (or grandnephew). This is a lot like Possibility #1a above, except that Jacob and Enos actually know each other and their lives overlap. It may be that Enos’s father either died while Jacob was still alive or was unwilling/unworthy to accept the plates from Jacob, so Jacob handed them straight to his grandson Enos. It is my understanding from my own readings that relationship terms in BCE Semitic cultures are a bit more liberal than in current day Western culture; note that the phrase “father Lehi” is still being used at least 600 and possibly 1000 years after Lehi’s death (depending upon whether Nephi3 or Mormon wrote 3 Nephi 10:17). The Book of Mormon — like the Old Testament, but unlike the New Testament — makes no use of “grand*”  relationships. So even if Jacob and Enos were grandfather and grandson, they would likely refer to each other simply as “father” and “son”.

This still requires that (Jacob’s age) + (Enos’s age) = 185, but it eliminates the need for Jacob to father Enos in his old age. As noted above, Enos doesn’t even have to be a direct descendant; he could be a grandnephew through Nephi’s or Joseph’s line, or through one of Jacob’s sisters.

Possibility #2b: Enos is adopted. Jacob may have found himself without a living or worthy male heir and so had to find a worthy male to whom to pass along the plates — in this case, Enos. This situation occurs twice elsewhere in the Book of Mormon — first, as noted above, when Amaleki turns the small plates over to King Benjamin; then again, when Ammaron approaches Mormon (who’s only 10 years old), tells him about all the Nephite records, and instructs him to take responsibility for them later in life. Again, this eliminates the need for Jacob to father Enos in his very old age, but it still requires the 185-years-or-so combined lifespans.

Possibility #2c: Enos is Jacob’s literal son. This would appear to be the least likely of all the possibilities (after #1c, that is). This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible — men have fathered childen at age 90, and Mayan records show at least one pre-Columbian Mayan emperor (Pakal) living to age 80. Jacob could have fathered Enos at, say, age 80, then lived another 10 years. Enos would then need to live to age 95. Such longevity plus virility is not out of line with the Book of Mormon — see this example among the Jaredites — but it is still unusual.

On the other hand, this discussion allows me to bring in the following can’t-miss-bar-bet fact: John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States (1841 to 1845), has two living grandsons (or did as of recently). Stop and think about that. John Tyler was born in 1790 — 15 years before Joseph Smith — and yet has two grandsons alive today:

According to the Wikipedia article on John Tyler (1790–1862), Tyler had, by his second wife, Julia Gardiner Tyler (born 1820), a son, Lyon Gardiner Tyler (1853-1935). It says that Harrison Ruffin Tyler, a son of Lyon, was born in 1928 (when Lyon was 75) and is still alive.

So, John Tyler at age 63 had a son Lyon Gardiner Tyler, and Lyon Gardiner Tyler at age 75 had a son Harrison Ruffin Tyler, and Harrison is about 80 and still alive. 63 plus 75 plus 80 equals 208 years. Three generations span the years from 1790 and 2009. Amazing.

Something to keep in mind when people start throwing around the word “impossible”.  ..bruce..

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