A Twilight World
The World of the Jaredites
A Twilight World
Author’s note: The epistolary form of this series of articles is the style
in which the writer most commonly expounds his views. Although "Professor
F." to whom these letters are addressed is a purely fictitious anthropologist
in an eastern university, he is typical of many a real correspondent, and the
letters themselves are no less typical. If "F." seems unduly meek
and teachable, that is because with the limited space at our disposal it would
be folly to engage in long and needless controversies.
My dear Professor F.:
I warned you that you would find the Book of Mormon full of strange and puzzling
things. Please don’t hesitate to tell me what you think; above all, there
is no need to be concerned about offending my religious sensibilities. The
Book of Mormon is tough; it thrives on investigation; you may kick it around
like a football, as many have done; and I promise you it will wear you out
long before you ever make a dent in it.
As to your first objection, you say that you are disturbed by the apparent
attempt of the Book of Mormon to trace the origin of our Indian tribes to
a single city in the Near East and to a time as recent as 600 B.C. This would
seem to you to be a much too simple and limited explanation for everything.
It seems so to me, too. But since you have only begun your reading of the
Book of Mormon, my urgent advice to you is, read on! There is a great surprise
awaiting you in the next to last book. Far from being oversimplified, this
strange history is extremely varied and complicated. As you know, the missionaries
in the early days of the Church recommended the Book of Mormon to the world
as "a history of the Indians," Indians being one of the few subjects
on which Americans in general possessed some information and on which their
interest could be easily aroused. But as a matter of fact, the Book of Mormon
is not so much a history of the Indians as of their distant ancestors—people
as different from them in many things as our Anglo-Saxon forefathers are from
us. The story of the Indians only begins where the Book of Mormon ends: before
that it deals largely with those great city-building nations of the south,
about whom you know much more than I do.
But before the Book of Mormon ever approaches your glamorous field, it has
a good deal to say about another culture, one that has been much studied in
our day and can still be examined at first hand, namely (of all things) that
of the desert Arabs, which is brought before our eyes in First Nephi with
a vividness and clarity which, I believe, say much for the authenticity of
the record. The same book also gives us a glimpse into the life of the prosperous
and civilized "Jews at Jerusalem" in the days of Zedekiah, briefer
but no less clear and specific than the picture of life in the desert.
Already, you see, this remarkable document offers to impart information on
no less than four widely divergent cultures. I leave it to you whether
an accurate description of any one of them, with the possible exception of some
Indian tribes, would have been possible from source materials available in the
days of Joseph Smith. But it is to the culture number five that I would
now call your attention. The last history in the Book of Mormon, which goes
under the title of the book of Ether, is even more wonderful in my opinion than
the first. It takes us into the twilight world of proto-history where the dim
half-described shadow-empires of Asia are only in our day beginning to take
on recognizable form. As you know, my constitutional weakness for whatever is
vague and fuzzy has drawn me irresistibly to this dangerous area, and I have
been guilty of a number of lengthy articles on matters that sensible people
hold to be unsearchable. You are free to laugh at this, but if you think I
am trespassing, what would you say of a man who tried to give an account of
life in that prehistoric world from what was known of it 120 years ago!
With the same unfaltering and unhurried step that led us across the sands of
Arabia (and you must agree that that was a marvelous performance), the author
of the Book of Mormon now conducts us into a world so remote, so utterly different
from anything within the scope of the Biblical or classical student, that if
we would follow him, we must acquire a whole new gear and tackle for the journey.
I think we are agreed that it would take a great deal of training for anyone
to acquire the background necessary to compose First Nephi. Now imagine any
man insane enough to try after such colossal exertions to write another
such story, of equal length and detail but this time about a totally different
race of people, living in an age far removed from the other and in a wholly
different geographical setting! As far as I know, not even Joseph Smith ever
called anyone’s attention to this prodigious feat; we all take it for granted.
Yet you will soon see that the author of Ether could have obtained precious
little help from any materials used in writing First Nephi. On the contrary,
the former experience could only tend to embarrass any attempt at a new history,
which would call for an entirely new training and preparation.
What the author of Ether has to supply is not a new plot but all new props
and scenery. Every century sees its wars, treaties, migrations, and so forth,
but always in a different setting; so that the test of an historical document
lies, as we have so often insisted, not in the story it tells but in the casual
details that only an eyewitness could have seen. The story of Jared and the
story of Lehi have the same theme, the familiar one of the righteous man who
leads his people out of a doomed and wicked world. There is nothing original
in that: it is also the story of Noah, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, "The Church
in the Wilderness," and, for that matter, the restored Church. But what
a setting! What strange institutions and practices! How shall we ever be able
to check up on such recondite stuff? It is going to require a bit of doing,
and so I would advise you to prepare yourself for a long siege.
As you know, it is my unfortunate habit either to write appallingly long
letters (twenty pages yet) or none at all. Since you have set this off by
accusing the Book of Mormon of proposing an oversimplified story of the Indians,
I am not going to let go of your throbbing wrist until, Hamlet-like, I have
forced you to look upon a number of strange and disturbing pictures. Had the
Jaredites lived in a vacuum, their story would today be beyond the reach of
criticism. But they did not live in a vacuum: the book of Ether tells us that
they continued in the New World the customs and vices that had flourished
in the Old. If, then, we can only find out what people were up to in the homeland
at that early day, we will have our "control" for the Ether story.
That, as you will recall, is the way we handled the problem of Lehi in the
Desert—found out what was going on in the world that Nephi was supposed
to be describing and then compared the data with what Nephi had to tell us.
The task of checking up on Lehi’s activities was greatly simplified by the
fact that the Bedouins of Arabia do things in our day much as they did them
in his. What we find in Central Asia—Jared’s country—are customs
"But," I can hear you snorting, "what about the evidence?"
It is one thing, I will admit, to read Arabic, and another to lisp the chaste
Mongolian. From the isolation of Utah it is not possible to do more than skim
the top of our materials; but if you will hasten to consult the bibliographies
of such standard works as McGovern and Vernadsky, you will see that even they
have hardly done more. Until someone appears who is competent to deal with the
difficult documents—a classicist who is also a Sinologist, an Indologian,
an expert on Semitics, Turkish, Slavic, and what-not, in short, another Vambery—we
must be content to base our speculations on the limited materials within our
control. Our whole justification is that these are adequate, as in the case
of Lehi, to prove what we want to prove, no more. And what are we going to prove?
That certain strange and unfamiliar things described in Ether actually could
have taken place as described, because they actually did take place—characteristically
and repeatedly—in those very cultural areas in which, according to the
Book of Mormon, the Jaredites acquired their culture and civilization.
And what are those "materials" to which we have been so darkly
alluding? They come in periods. To illustrate, let us say that there is a
peculiar custom—of the royal court or the hunt, for example—described
in Ether. We find the same custom described by modern travelers in Central
Asia (source number one); Christian and Moslem merchants, geographers, and
missionaries report the same peculiar custom in the same region in the Middle
Ages (source number two); next we move back another seven or eight hundred
years and behold: the spies and ambassadors of the Byzantine court describe
the same custom (source number three, and so on), for which we are now beginning
to feel a measure of respect! Moving back through the centuries, we find that
classical historians from Cassiodorus to Herodotus, a full thousand years
apart, mention the same custom, and then slipping back another fifteen hundred
to two thousand years we read about it in the records of the Assyrians and
Babylonians. Last of all, the Russian archaeologists find evidence for the
same thing in prehistoric times. From these many points of reference we may
project, as it were, a smooth curve right back to the Jaredites, and safely
assume that when the book of Ether describes the very institutions depicted
in these records of early Asia it is on solid ground. In each instance, however,
you will have to be the judge, for all we can give at the present interval
is a sampling of the evidence. You may have to wait thirty years for the rest
Please note that we are limiting our curiosity to the sort of thing that
happened. The exact time and place of any specific event are no concern
of ours. Such matters are always open to dispute, and in the case of the Jaredites
they don’t begin to come within guessing distance. Bear in mind that these people
lived in a realm far removed from the current of world history; in a dateless
age they took their culture from the common source and thereafter were on their
own until they disappeared from the earth. What difference whether they had
a battle in one spot or another—in one year or another? The important
thing is that they did have battles and, for our purpose, that those battles
followed patterns of warfare peculiar to central Asia. We specialize in patterns.
The first chapter of our Ether text gives us warning not to be dogmatic about
chronology. In the genealogical list of thirty names running back to "the
great tower" the word "descendant" occurs, once where several
generations may be spanned (Ether 1:23; 10:9), and twice interchangeably with
the word "son" (Ether 1:6, 16; cf. 2; 3). As you know, in Hebrew and
other languages "son" and "descendant" are both rendered
by one very common word. One and the same word describes a modern Jew and Father
Isaac as "sons" of Abraham—the word is understood differently
in each case, but is not written differently. A person confined to
a written text would have no means of knowing when ben should be taken
to mean "son" in a literal sense and when it means merely "descendant."
The ancient Hebrews knew perfectly well when to make the distinction: like the
Arabs and Maoris they kept their records in their heads, and in mentioning a
particular patriarch, it was assumed that the hearer was familiar with his line
down to his next important descendant, the written lists being a mere outline
to establish connections between particular lines—the name of a patriarch
was enough to indicate his line, which did not have to be written out in full.
Sir Leonard Woolley has some interesting things to say on this subject in his
book Abraham. Now Ether proves, at least to Latter-day Saints, that
"son" and "descendant" were both used in the ancient genealogies,
which thus do not present an unbroken father-to-son relationship. We are told
that the genealogy in Ether belongs to the second part of a record and that
"the first part of this record . . . is had among the Jews"
(Ether 1:3). So we may regard the Old Testament genealogies as the earlier part
of this same list and are thus faced with the possibility, long suspected by
many, that in Biblical genealogies ben must sometimes be read "son"
and sometimes "descendant," though men have long since lost the knowledge
that enabled the ancient ruler to make the necessary distinction. The result
is, of course, that our Biblical genealogies as we read them today may be much
Incidentally, the genealogy in Ether, chapter one, explains why neither the
brother of Jared nor his children are ever named. (We are not even told how
many sons he had, though Jared’s own sons are listed by name.) This once puzzled
me, since the brother of Jared is by all odds the most important character
in the book. It is, of course, because "he that wrote this" is a
direct descendant of Jared (Ether 1:2, 32), and not of Jared’s brother, and
is giving the history of his own line only.
To get involved in Andree’s eighty-eight versions of the Flood story, or the
sixty-four conflicting accounts of the dispersion listed by von Schwarz, might
jeopardize the terseness and brevity that give our little notes their gem-like
quality. Let us consign such matters to the decent obscurity of a footnote.2
As long as you insist on having the evidence for everything, by the way, you
cannot object to an occasional reference in small print. The trouble with the
Babel story is that we are told so little. A few short enigmatic verses in Genesis
are not enough in themselves to justify the dogmatic reconstructions and wild
surmises that have raged about the tower. Ether has the support of the latest
conclusions, based on Genesis 10, that when the tower was built, the people
had already been "spread abroad in the earth after the deluge" for
some time.3 It is interesting that all
accounts are very vague as to where the human family lived before the
flood, the best version, that of Berossos, reporting that "the flood survivors
are ‘lost,’ and have to be told by a divine revelation where they are."4
When our source describes a particular region as "that quarter
where there never had man been" (Ether 2:5), the implication is that men
had certainly been in other quarters. Moreover, Jared’s people were reluctant
to leave their homes, and when they were finally "driven out of the land,"
they took with them flocks, herds, and seeds of every kind, together with the
knowledge and skills (they even took books with them) necessary to establish
a great civilization—all these things being the necessary products of
a long-established and widespread economy. Civilization meets us full-blown,
nay, decadent, in the pages of Ether. One looks in vain for very many signs
of evolution in the Book of Mormon. This is a red rag to the social scientists,
I know, but that is only because social scientists don’t read the historical
documents, which, if they only knew it, are the inexhaustible field notes and
lab notes of the human race. To those whose view of the world comes from questionnaires
and textbooks, it seems incredible that the early dynastic civilization of Sumer,
for example, should be so far ahead of later cultures that "compared with
it everything that comes later seems almost decadent; the handicrafts must have
reached an astounding perfection."5
It is hard to believe that the great Babylonian civilization throughout the
many centuries in which it flourished was merely coasting, sponging off the
achievements of a much earlier civilization which by all rights should have
been "primitive"; yet that is exactly the picture that Meissner gives
us in his great study.6 It is against
the rules that those artistic attainments for which Egypt is most noted—the
matchless portraits, the wonderful stone vessels, the exquisite weaving—should
reach their peak at the very dawn of Egyptian history, in the predynastic period,
yet such is the case. It is in the earliest dynasties, and not in the later
ones, that technical perfection and artistic taste of the Egyptians in jewelry,
furniture, ceramics, etc., are most "advanced." "Here is a very
odd thing," a British authority recently commented. "In literature
the best in each kind comes first, comes suddenly and never comes again. This
is a disturbing, uncomfortable, unacceptable idea to people who take their doctrine
of evolution oversimply. But I think it must be admitted to be true. Of the
very greatest things in each sort of literature, the masterpiece is unprecedented,
unique, never challenged or approached henceforth."7
More impressive is the report of the Egyptologist Siegfried Schott: "Time
and again in the development of Egyptian culture the monuments of a new epoch
present something heretofore unknown in a state of completely developed perfection."
He lists as such items the sudden appearance of the Pyramid Texts, "the
surprising emergence of temple architecture and its mural decorations, without
any prior forms to indicate an earlier development," the buildings of Zoser
at Sakkara, the great pyramids themselves, and the temple reliefs which display
a complete mastery of medium and style on their first appearance.8
Are not the earliest paintings of the human race to this day unexcelled? Please
note that we are only able to pass judgment on those things which happen to
have survived from those remote ages: We assume that those people were crude
and primitive in all other things, until some of those other things
turn up and show them to be far ahead of us. We must admit, for example, that
the stone chipping of certain paleolithic hunters has never been equaled since
their day; it so happens that stone implements are all that have survived from
those people—have we any right to deny them perfection of other things?
Is there any reason for supposing that their wood or leather work was inferior?
Anyone with a modern education will tell you without hesitation that the earliest
weaving of our ancestors must have been very crude indeed. But when,
contrary to all expectations, some of the cloth was actually found, the French
experts gave it careful examination and declared it the equal of the very finest
stuff we are capable of producing today.9
The only weapons that have survived from prehistoric times are far more suited
for their purpose than a modern rifle. The deadliest of all hunting weapons
remains to this day the stone-headed (not steel-headed) arrow. In my recent
labors on the marked arrows I had occasion to assemble an impressive amount
of evidence on this head.10 Eyre has
recently supplied a good deal of evidence to prove that our "primitive"
ancestors enjoyed a good deal more security, comfort, and pleasure in life than
we do.11 Moreover, as an anthropologist
you know perfectly well that backward and primitive people may have mental powers
equaling or excelling our own—look at Elkin’s Australian aborigines or,
if they are too far away, I can lead you to some Indians who in some things
can make us feel like cretins. If it would not take us too far afield, I could
show you that the dogma of the evolutionary advancement of the human race as
a whole is nothing but an impressive diploma which the nineteenth century awarded—summa
cum laude—to itself. Modern man is a self-certified genius who, having
pinned the blue ribbon on his own lapel, proceeds to hand out all the other
awards according as the various candidates are more or less like him.
"Yes," I can hear you say, "but there must have been a long
evolution behind all these early achievements." Which is for you to prove,
not assume, if you are a scientist. What is certain to date is (a) that their
evolutionary background has not been discovered, and (b) that there is no record
of subsequent improvement through all these thousands of years. So
let the biologists talk of evolution; for the historian it has no meaning. Indeed
Professor Van der Meer, perhaps the foremost living student of ancient chronology,
can only regret "the influence of a theory of evolutionism which has been
dragged so unfortunately into the study of ancient history."12
By now I imagine I have got you into such a state that you would refuse to
read farther even if I had the time to write more. I leave you now with a
promise of coming attractions, pending your willingness to carry on the discussion.
Be so good as to indicate your reactions to all these words, and I shall conduct
Dear Professor F.:
In reply to my sustained blast of the 17th of this month, you tax me with a
"naive and gullible acceptance of the Tower of Babel story." I knew
you would. Most people believe quite naively that Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg
Address, but their totally uncritical acceptance of the fact does not prevent
it from being true. You may accept any story naively or you may take it critically.
What would you say if I were to accuse you of being very simple and gullible
in rejecting the story of the tower? The cornerstone of "sound
scholarship" in our day is the comfortable doctrine that the answer no
can never be quite as wrong as the answer yes, a proposition which
to my knowledge has never been demonstrated. Excuse me if I seem recalcitrant,
but I find it odd that the one skill most appreciated and rewarded in those
circles where one hears everlastingly of "the inquiring mind" and
the importance of "finding out for one’s self" is the gift and power
of taking things for granted. Even our Latter-day Saint intellectuals are convinced
that the way to impress the Gentiles is not to acquire a mastery of their critical
tools (how few even know Latin!), but simply to defer in all things to their
Think back, my good man, to the first act of recorded history. What meets our
gaze as the curtain rises? People everywhere building towers. And why are they
building towers? To get to heaven. The tower was, to use the Babylonian formula,
the markas shame u irsitim, the "binding-place of heaven and earth,"
where alone one could establish contact with the upper and lower worlds.14
That goes not only for Babylonia but also for the whole ancient world, as I
have pointed out at merciless length in my recent study on the "Hierocentric
State."15 The towers were artificial
mountains, as any textbook will tell you, and no temple-complex could be without
one. The labors of Dombart, Jeremias, Andrae, Burrows, and others will spare
us the pains of showing you these towers scattered everywhere throughout the
old world as a means of helping men get to heaven.16
The legends concerning them are legion, but they all fall into the same pattern:
In the beginning an ambitious race of men tried to get to heaven by climbing
a mountain or tower; they failed and then set out to conquer the world. A thoroughly
typical version of the story is a variant found in Jewish and Christian apocryphal
writers in which the sons of Seth (the angels, in some versions), eager to regain
the paradise Adam had lost, went up on to Mount Hermon, and there lived lives
of religious asceticism, calling themselves "the Watchers" and "the
Sons of Elohim." It was an attempt to establish the heavenly order, and
it failed, the embittered colony descending the mountain to break the covenant,
marry the daughters of Cain, and beget a race of "men notorious for murders
and robberies." Determined to possess the earth if they could not possess
heaven, the men of the mountain denied that they had failed, faked the priesthood,
and forced the inhabitants of the earth to accept the kings they put over them.17
This story you will recognize as an obvious variant of the extremely ancient
and widespread Mad Hunter cycle, which I treated in an article on the origin
of the state.18 The Mad Hunter, you
will recall, claimed to be the rightful ruler of the universe, challenged God
to an archery contest, and built a great tower from which he hoped to shoot
his arrows into heaven. Sir James Frazer has collected a large number of American
Indian versions of the story to illustrate Old World parallels, for the tale
is met with among primitive hunters throughout the world.19
In Genesis 10:4 we read that Nimrod, the "mighty hunter against the Lord,"20
founded the kingdom of Babel, and in the next chapter that Babel was the name
of the tower built to reach to heaven. This Nimrod seems to be the original
arch-type of the Mad Hunter.21 His name
is for the Jews at all times the very symbol of rebellion against God and of
usurped authority; he it was "who became a hunter of men," established
false priesthood and false kingship in the earth in imitation of God’s rule
and "made all men to sin."22
A very early Christian writing tells how Noah’s descendants waged bitter war
among themselves after his death, to see who should possess his kingship; finally
one of the blood of Ham prevailed, and from him the Egyptians, Babylonians,
and Persians derive their priesthood and kingship. "From the race of Ham,"
says the text, "came one through the magical (as opposed to the holy) succession
named Nimrod, who was a giant against the Lord . . . whom the Greeks
call Zoroaster and who ruled the world, forcing all men by his false magical
arts to recognize his authority."23
The Chronicon Paschale reports a widespread tradition that this giant who built
Babylon was not only the first king of Persia, the earthly Cosmocrator, but
also the first man to teach the killing and eating of beasts, a belief also
expressed in the Koran.24 There is another
common tradition that Nimrod’s crown was a fake, and that he ruled without right
in the earth over all the sons of Noah, and they were all under his power and
counsel; while he did not go in the ways of the Lord, and was more wicked than
all the men that were before him.25
The antiquity of these stories may be judged from an early Babylonian account
of a wicked king who first mingled "small and great . . . on
the mound" and caused them to sin, earning for himself the title of "king
of the noble mound" (cf. the tower), "god of lawlessness," god
of no government.26 In the very earliest
Indo-European traditions this person is Dahhak, "The type of the dregvant,
the man of the Lie and king of mad-men," who sat on the throne for a thousand
years and forced all men to subscribe their names in the book of the Dragon,
thus making them subject to him.27 This
recalls the very ancient tradition that when Seth succeeded Adam in the priesthood,
he ordered a special record to be kept, which was called the Book of Life and
which was concealed from the sons of Cain. The Dragon’s Book was an imitation
of this.28 There is a constant tendency
in ancient records to confuse Jemshid, the founder of the earthly kingship and
the father of the human race, not with Adam, but with the false Adam or usurper.29
In the book of Ether the name of Nimrod is attached to "the valley which
was northward," and which led "into that quarter where there never
had man been" (Ether 2:2, 5), which suits very well with the legendary
character of Nimrod as the Mad Hunter of the Steppes. The name of Nimrod has
always baffled philologians, who have never been able to locate it—though
Kraeling now accepts Eduard Meyer’s much-doubted theory that the name is Egypto-Lybian,
which suits well with our own belief regarding the curse of Ham30—but
at the end of the last century the explorer and scholar Emin found that name
attached to legends (mostly of the Mad Hunter variety) and place names in the
region of Lake Van, the great valley system due north of upper Mesopotamia.31
Now I am not insisting for a minute that the legendary Nimrod ever existed.
As I told you before, I am only interested in the type of thing that
happened, and after having examined hundreds of legends from all parts of the
ancient world, all telling substantially the same story, I think that anyone
would find it difficult, in view of the evidence, to deny that there was some
common event behind them. It seems to have been a single event, moreover.
How so? I said above that we find mounds, towers, and accompanying rituals
throughout the whole ancient world; now I will go further and say that these
mounds and towers and the great cult-complexes that go with them were not so
many independent local inventions but actually imitations derived ultimately
from a single original. Every great national shrine of antiquity had a founding
legend of how in the beginning it was brought through the air from some mysterious
faraway land. And this faraway land always turns out to have been in central
Asia. Our Norse Othinn came from the giants’ land to the east, the Greek national
cult from the land of the Hyperboreans, far to the northeast of Greece; people
of the Near East looked to a mysterious white mountain of the North as the seat
of their primordial cult, the Chinese to the paradise or mountain of the West,
and so forth. You may list the various founding legends and trace them back
at your leisure to a single point of origin.32
I find it strange that the founding father and summus deus of each
nation of antiquity is somewhere declared to be a fraud and an impostor, a wandering
tramp from afar whose claims to supreme authority cannot stand a too careful
examination. Think of Prometheus’ challenge to Zeus, of Loki’s blackmailing
of Othinn, of the dubious "Justification of Osiris," of the terror
of almighty Anu when Tiamat challenges his authority, and so forth.33
Run down these legends, and you will find in every case that the usurper comes
from Central Asia. Even Isaiah (Isaiah 14:12—14) recalls that in the beginning
the adversary himself set up his throne "upon the Mountain of the assembly
in the regions of the North," and there pretended to be "like the
Most High." For all this a single origin is indicated; whether historical
or ritual makes little difference.
There is one aspect of the Nimrod cycle that is too interesting to pass by,
especially for an anthropologist. That is the tradition of the stolen garment.
The Stolen Garment
Nimrod claimed his kingship on the ground of victory over his enemies;34
his priesthood, however, he claimed by virtue of possessing "the garment
of Adam." The legends of the Jews assure us that it was by virtue of owning
this garment that Nimrod was able to claim power to rule over the whole earth,
and that he sat in his tower while men came and worshiped him.35
The Apocryphal writers, Jewish and Christian, have a good deal to say about
this garment. To quote one of them: "the garments of skin which God made
for Adam and his wife, when they went out of the garden, were given . . .
after the death of Adam . . . to Enoch"; hence they passed to
Methusaleh, and then to Noah, from whom Ham stole them as the people were leaving
the ark. Ham’s grandson Nimrod obtained them from his father Cush.36
As for the legitimate inheritance of this clothing, a very old fragment
recently discovered says that Michael "disrobed Enoch of his earthly garments,
and put on him his angelic clothing," taking him into the presence of God.37
This garment of Enoch was supposed to be the very garment of skins that John
the Baptist wore, called by the early Christians "the garment of Elias."38
An Arabic "Life of John the Baptist" says that Gabriel brought it
to John from heaven as "the garment of Elijah"; "it went back,"
says John Chrysostom, "to the beginning of the world, to the times before
which Adam required covering. Thus it was the symbol of repentance."39
Others believed it was the same garment that Herod and later the Romans put
under lock and key when they wished to prevent the people from putting it on
a candidate of their own choice, and tell how the Jews tried to seize the garment
by force and put it on John the Baptist, thus making him, instead of Herod,
their high priest.40 Whatever its origin,
the wearing of a garment of repentance, symbolic of life of man in his fallen
state, was known to the most ancient Christians and practiced by certain ultra-conservative
cults down to modern times.41
Incidentally the story of the stolen garment as told by the old rabbis, including
the great Eleazer, calls for an entirely different rendering of the strange
story in Genesis 9 from the version in our King James Bible. They seemed to
think that the cerwath of Genesis 9:22 did not mean "nakedness"
at all, but should be given its primary root meaning of "skin covering."
Read thus, we are to understand that Ham took the garment of his father while
he was sleeping and showed it to his brethren, Shem and Japheth, who took a
pattern or copy of it (salmah) or else a woven garment like it (simlah)
which they put upon their own shoulders, returning the skin garment to their
father. Upon awaking, Noah recognized the priesthood of two sons but cursed
the son who tried to rob him of his garment. By an extremely common type of
substitution, the simlah of Genesis 9:23 could very easily stand for
an original tsimlah, a copy, imitation, pattern, or by an equally common
type of transposition for Salmah, a garment or mantle, as in Micah
2:8. Even as it stands simlah means only a woven garment and can hardly
refer to the original skin article. This is, apparently, the source of the widespread
legend that Ham stole the garment of Noah and claimed to possess the priesthood
by virtue of his illegal insignia. Ham’s descendants, Cush and Nimrod—both
Africans, though Nimrod in his wandering moved to Asia42—made
the same claim. It is interesting that according to certain ancient scriptures
which the Latter-day Saints claim have been restored by revelation in our own
age, Pharaoh (who represents the Afro-Asian line of Cush-Nimrod) was blessed
as to the kingship but cursed as to the priesthood, and he offered Abraham the
privilege of wearing his own royal insignia in hope that Abraham would return
the compliment by allowing Pharaoh to wear his priestly ones (Abraham 1:26—27).
According to a very old tradition, Pharaoh coveted the priesthood of Moses exactly
as his ancestor Nimrod did that of Abraham, and it was said that the Pharaohs
of Egypt dressed in a skin garment "to show that their origin was older
than time itself."43
According to the Talmud, Nimrod’s "great success in hunting was due to
the fact that he wore the coat of skin which God made for Adam and Eve."44
There is a tradition that Nimrod, becoming jealous of the rival hunter Esau
(so much for chronology!), lay in ambush for him but was defeated by Esau, who
cut off his head and "took the valuable garments of Nimrod, . . .
with which Nimrod prevailed over the whole land (or earth!), and he ran and
concealed them in his house." These garments, says the report, were nothing
less than the birthright which Esau later sold to Jacob.45
Two significant conclusions come from all this: (1) that any historical reconstruction
of what actually happened is out of the question, what has come down to us being
a mass of conflicting legends and reports, and (2) that these conflicting legends
and reports nevertheless agree on certain main points, that they are very old,
and were considered by the most learned Jews to present matters of great importance,
whose significance escaped later ages. The priests and kings of antiquity certainly
wore such garments,46 and the skin garment
was often imitated in woven materials;47
in fact, the skin garment was itself held to be a substitute for a still older
garment made of the leaves of the ficus religiosus.48
I make no apology for conducting you into these lost bypaths of the past.
You have often proclaimed it your professional obligation to be interested
in all things, and especially the unusual. Still there is such a thing as
going too far, and it is high time I was showing you what a sober, factual,
and common-sense document the book of Ether really is. Let us return to Babel.
1. Part 1 of "The World of the Jaredites,” IE 54 (September 1951): 628—30,
673—75, began at this point.
2. Richard Andree, Die Flutsagen
(Braunschweig: Bieweg, 1891); Franz von Schwarz, Sintfluth und Völkerwanderungen
(Stuttgart: Enke, 1894), 358 & passim.
3. Emil G. Kraeling, "The Earliest Hebrew Flood Story,” JBL 66 (1947):
4. Ibid., 285.
5. Albrecht Götze, Hethiter, Churriter
und Assyreer (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1936), 11.
6. Bruno Meissner, Babylonien und
Assyrien, 2 vols. (Heidelberg: Winter, 1926 ), illustrating the permanent
dependence of all later Babylonian civilization on the culture of the early
settlers of the valley; e.g., in literature, 2:154—55; cf. Alexandre Moret,
Histoire de l’Orient, 2 vols. (Paris: Presses Universitaires, 1929—36),
7. I. A. Richards, quoted by A. C. Bouquet,
Comparative Religion, 6th ed. (Baltimore: Penguin, 1962), 24.
8. Siegfried Schott, Mythe und Mythenbildung
im alten Ägypten (Leipzig: Hinrich, 1945; reprinted Hildesheim: Olm,
9. "La finesse des fils est telle
qu’avec nos machines les plus récentes, nous ne l’avons gèure dépassée.”
Lacasine, quoted by Moret, Histoire de l’Orient 1:66. The earliest
known cloth shows a high degree of perfection, F.-M. Bergounioux and Andr Glory,
Les Premiers Hommes (Paris: Didier, 1952), 388—90.
10. The superiority of the stone-headed
arrow has been fully demonstrated by Saxton Pope, Hunting with the Bow and
Arrow (New York: Putnam, 1947).
11. Wilhelm Schmidt, "The Injury
Done to the Study of Primitive Man by Evolutionary Preconceptions,” in Edward
Eyre, ed., European Civilization, 7 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1934—38), 1:36—51. "The paleolithic artists,” says
Moret, Histoire de l’Orient 1:23, "must have lived in a time when
they could work with continuity, security, and permanence.” We might envy them!
12. P. van der Meer, The Ancient
Chronology of Western Asia and Egypt (Leiden: Brill, 1947), 13.
13. Part 2 of "The World of the Jaredites,” IE 54 (October 1951): 704—6,
752—55, began at this point.
14. Alfred Jeremias, Handbuch
der altorientalischen Geisteskultur (Leipzig: Hinrich, 1913), 33—34,
48, 51, 55—57, 92, 128.
15. Hugh W. Nibley, "The Hierocentric State,” WPQ 4 (1951): 226—53.
16. For the classic treatments of
the tower, see Jeremias, Handbuch der altorientalischen Geisteskultur,
44—47, 85—86, 149—50, 230, 236, 275, 286—89, 319, citing
many authorities; Alfred Jeremias, Das Alte Testament im Lichte des Alten
Orients, 3rd ed. (Leipzig: Hinrich, 1916), 168—80; Theodor Dombart,
Der Sakralturm (Munich: Beck 1920); Dombart, "Der Babylonische
Turm,” Das Alte Orient 29 (1930), Heft 2; Eric Burrows, "Some
Cosmological Patterns in Babylonian Religion," in Samuel H. Hooke, ed.
The Labyrinth (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1935),
45—70, and below, n. 19.
17. 1 Enoch 6:2—8; The Book
of Jasher 9:20—39; E. A. Wallis Budge, The Chronography of Bar Hebraeus,
2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1932), 1:3—4.
18. Hugh W. Nibley, "The Arrow, the Hunter, and the State,” WPQ 2 (1949):
19. Ibid., 339—43; cf. Wilhelm Nestle, "Legenden vom Tod der Gottesverächter,”
ARW 33 (1936): 246—69.
20. The vague "before the Lord” of the Kings James version (Genesis
10:9) conceals the true meaning, rendered "against the Lord” by the
Rabbinical and early Christian writers; on this subject see Karl Preisendanz,
"Nimrod,” in RE 17:624. On the crimes of Nimrod, see Nibley, "The
Arrow, the Hunter, and the State,” 339—41.
21. Under the direction of Nimrod
men said, "We will ascend to heaven and smite him (God) with bows and spears;
and God knew all their works, . . . and he saw the city and the tower
which they were building,” Jasher 9:20; cf. G. Sale, The Koran (Philadelphia:
Lippincott, 1870), 269. The same custom and the same arrogance is reported of
the ancient Thracians, Herodotus, Histories IV, 94.
22. See the article "Nimrod,” JE 9:309—11; cf. 1 Enoch 10:7—10 on Azazel
the mad hunter to whom "is ascribed all sin,” who "led the angels
in their pursuit of the daughters of men,” etc. Preisendanz, "Nimrod,”
23. Clement of Rome, Homilia (Homily)
IX, 3—5, in PG 2:241—44.
24. Chronicon Paschale 36, in PG 92:145. Koran 16:5, 66; 33:70—72; 40:79
speak of the eating of animals. Cf. Chronicon Anonymi 3, in PL 3:680.
25. Mahbub (Agapius) of Menbij, Alexandre
Vasiliev, ed., Kitab al-Unwan, in PO 5:631; Budge, Chronography
of Bar Hebraeus 1:8; on Nimrod the usurper who "slew his father and
took his mother to wife,” Charles M. Doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserta
(New York: Random House, 1937), 2:32, 657.
26. W. St. Chad Boscawen, "The Legend of the Tower of Babel,” TSBA
5 (1876): 303—12.
27. A. J. Carnoy, Indian/Iranian
Mythology, vol. 6 of Mythology of All Races (Boston: Marshall
Jones, 1917), 321.
28. According to the Persian antiquarian
Thaclabi, Kitāb Qisas al-Anbiyya (Cairo: Muṣṭafa al-Babli
al-Ḥalabi wa-Awlāduhu, A. H., 1345), 33.
29. Ad-Diyarbakri, Tārīkh
al-Khamis (Cairo, A. H., 1283), 1:67; Clément Huart and Louis Delaporte,
L’Iran antique (Paris: Michel, 1952), 454—55.
30. Preisendanz, "Nimrod,” 626.
Kraeling, "The Earliest Hebrew Flood Story,” 289, n. 28; Eduard Meyer,
Geschichte des Altertums, 5 vols. (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1925—58),
vol. 2, pt. 2, pp. 31—32.
31. O. Emin, Izsledovania i Statyi
(Moscow, 1896), 301—3.
32. I have treated this subject at
some length in my article "The Hierocentric State,” WPQ 4 (1951):
226—253. For a survey of various such primordial mountains, Theodor H.
Gaster, Thespis (New York: Schuman, 1950), 184—85, 169—71;
H. R. Hall, "Notices of Recent Publications,” JEA 10 (1924):
33. C. J. Gadd, Ideas of Divine
Rule in the Ancient East (London: Oxford University Press, 1948), 1—3;
Dahhad-Jemshid is a typical example of this, Carnoy, Indian/Iranian Mythology,
34. Jasher 7:39—46.
35. Jeremias, Das Alte Testament
im Lichte des Alten Orients, 159—60, citing bin Gorion and the Pirke
d’ R. Eliezar; "Nimrod,” JE 9:309; Preisendanz, "Nimrod,”
36. Quote is from Jasher 7:24—30;
others given in "Nimrod,” JE 9:309—11, cf. Jeremias, Das
Alte Testament im Lichte des Alten Orients, 159—60.
37. August F. von Gall, Basileia
tou Theou (Heidelberg: Winter, 1926), 330, citing 2 Enoch 22:8.
38. Robert Eisler, Iesous Basileus
ou Basileusas, 2 vols. (Heidelberg: Winter , 1929—30), 2:33—38.
Eisler, 33, cites the tradition that John the Baptist wore the garment of raw
skin (cor, Genesis 3:21) in place of the original garment
of light (cor) worn before the fall; various early cults,
forbidding the slaying of animals, changed the skin garment into a hair garment,
ibid., 2:16, 34, 118—19, cf. Friedrich Dieterici, ed., Thier und Mensch
vor dem König der Genien (Leipzig: Hinrich, 1879; reprinted Hildesheim:
Olms, 1969), 22, 97.
39. John Chrysostom, Commentarius
in Sanctum Matthaeum Evangelistam (Commentary on Matthew) 10, 4, in PG
57:188—89; this and the anonymous Life of John the Baptist are both cited
in Eisler, Iesous Basileus 2:36, n. 6. According to the R. H. Charles,
Book of Jubilees (Jerusalem: Makor, 1972) 3:30—31 (written in
the 2nd century b.c., hereafter cited as Jubilees), "to Adam alone did
He [God] give to cover his shame. . . . On this account, it is prescribed
on the heavenly tablets as touching all those who know the judgment of the law,
that they should cover their shame, and should not uncover themselves as the
Gentiles uncover themselves.”
40. Eisler, Iesous Basileus,
2:78—81; Josephus, Antiquities, 3:182—87, cf. Eusebius,
Historia Ecclesiastica (Ecclesiastical History ) I, 6, in PG
41. Eisler, Iesous Basileus,
2:35, 78, 109—10; von Gall, Basileia tou Theou, 330—32,
cit. Greek Baruch Apocalypse (3 Baruch) 4:16; 1 Enoch 62:15; 2 Enoch 22:8; Revelation
3:4—5; 6:11; the Mandaeans believed the garment of John the Baptist would
be given to all who were admitted to salvation, Eisler, Iesous Basileus,
2:33, cf. Odes of Solomon 25:8; and the 2nd-century Apostolic writing published
by Carl Schmidt, Gespräche Jesu mit seinen Jüngern nach der Auferstehung
(Leipzig: Hinrich, 1919), 72. Related to the baptismi vestamentum of the Early
Christians, Tertullian, De Baptismo (On Baptism) 13, in PL
42. See above n. 7; cf. Joseph Poplicha, "The Biblical Nimrod and the
Kingdom of Eanna,” JAOS 49 (1929): 304—5.
43. Abraham’s refusal to make the
exchange was the real reason for his being expelled from Egypt, according to
apocryphal writers. Dieterici, Thier und Mensch, 112; A. Wünsche, Salomons
Thron und Hippodrom Abbilder des Babylonischen Himmelsbildes, Ex Oriente Lux
2, 3 (Leipzig: Pfeiffer, 1906), 26. There is a good deal of Egyptian material
dealing with this custom of a royal exchange of garments and honors, but there
is not time to go into it here—I only want to call attention to the fact
that we are actually moving in a world of established patterns and familiar
concepts, however weird they may seem to the uninitiated.
44. "Nimrod,” JE 9:309: "When the animals saw [Nimrod] clad in
them, they crouched before him so that he had no difficulty in catching them.”
45. Jasher 27:2—13.
46. Above n. 29; Egyptian priests,
royalty, and the dead were all clothed in the classic skin garment of the Egyptian
priesthood; cf. T. J. C. Baly, "Notes on the Ritual of Opening the Mouth,”
JEA 16 (1930): 173—86. The kaunakes of the Sumerians
was a heavy skin garment wholly unsuited to the climate of Babylonia and has
for that reason been taken as proof that the Sumerians came from the North,
Moret, Histoire de l’Orient 1:21, n. 81; vs. George A. Barton, "Whence
Came the Sumerians?” JAOS 49 (1929): 263—64. Montague R. James,
The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1924), 414; cf. p.
412, on the garment of the King. In 1939 an amber statuette was found showing
the King of Assyria wearing the insignia of the Jewish High Priest, "A
Unique Example of Assyrian Sculpture: A Portrait in Amber,” ILN (7 January
47. In later times the Egyptian priest
wore "no real leopard-skin but a close-fitting coat of fine linen in the
form of a leopard-skin," H. R. Hall, "The Bronze Statuette of Khonserdaisu
in the British Museum," JEA 16 (1930): 1, cf. T. J. C. Baly, "Notes
on the Ritual of Opening the Mouth," 178. The Syrian Christians said that
the garment given to Adam was of cotton, the "skin" of the tree, Eisler,
Iesous Basileus, 2:34; this doctrine, they say, was known only to Moses,
"who called cotton ‘skin’ because among trees it takes the place of skin";
hence the idea that John the Baptist took his clothes from trees. The Jews retained
traces of the older garment in their phylacteries and in the Sisith, the four
strings that every Jew once had on the edge of his garment, Ferris J. Stephens,
"The Ancient Significance of Sisith," JBL 50 (1931): 59—70.
Compare the Irham of the Moslems in John L. Burckhardt, Travels in Arabia,
2 vols. (London: Colburn & Bently, 1831), 1:104—5, 163—64.
48. Eisler, Iesous Basileus,
2:34, n. 11 for references.