Hiding the Secret Plans
The Second Conference of Abbot Serenus 21, written about a.d. 426 by the Christian scholar John Cassian, sheds light on statements made in the Book of Mormon and the Book of Moses about Cain, who slew his brother Abel.
An Old World contemporary of Mormon and Moroni, Cassian wrote that "the sons of Seth who were the sons of God saw the daughters of those who were born of the line of Cain, and inflamed with the desire for their beauty took to themselves from them wives who taught their husbands the wickedness of their fathers, and at once led them astray from their innate holiness and the single-mindedness of their forefathers."1
In the Book of Mormon, Cain and his descendants are said to have covenanted with Satan to organize the first of the secret combinations that later flourished among the Jaredites and the Nephites (see Helaman 6:27; Ether 8:15). The most well known of those groups was called "Gadianton's robbers and murderers" (Helaman 6:18). The devil was considered to be the founder of such "secret combinations of murder" (see 2 Nephi 9:9; 26:22). According to Helaman 8:28, the "secret band" among the Nephites was authored by "Gadianton and the evil one who seeketh to destroy the souls of men." The Book of Moses confirms the devil's role and provides more details about the oaths and secrecy associated with Cain's family (see Moses 5:29-31, 49-52).
Cassian continues his account by providing additional material not found in the Bible but confirmed in the Book of Mormon:
And so, as ancient traditions tell us, Ham the son of Noah, who had been taught these superstitions and wicked and profane arts, as he knew that he could not possibly bring any handbook on these subjects into the ark, into which he was to enter with his good father and holy brothers, inscribed these nefarious arts and profane devices on plates of various metals which could not be destroyed by the flood of waters, and on hard rocks, and when the flood was over he hunted for them with the same inquisitiveness with which he had concealed them, and so transmitted to his descendants a seedbed of profanity and perpetual sin. In this way then that common notion, according to which men believe that angels delivered to men enchantments and diverse arts, is in truth fulfilled. From these sons of Seth then and daughters of Cain, as we have said, there were born still worse children who became mighty, hunters, violent and most fierce men who were termed giants by reason of the size of their bodies and their cruelty and wickedness.2
The keeping of records on metal plates is a major theme in the Book of Mormon, but equally significant is Cassian's assertion that Ham had learned the "wicked and profane arts" of Cain and had inscribed them on metallic plates that he hid before the flood and later retrieved. The story is paralleled by the account of the Gadianton robbers, who "concealed their secret plans in the earth" and later retrieved them (see Helaman 11:10, 26).
A medieval Jewish text that comments on the building of the Tower of Babel (see Genesis 11:2) indicates that the people of that time "found remnants of the secret wisdom that had been left there by the generation of the Flood, and with that they made their attempt to provoke the Holy One, blessed be He" (Zohar Genesis 76a).3
Although we cannot ascertain what were the "ancient traditions" and "secret wisdom" to which Cassian and the Zohar referred, it is interesting that the account parallels those found in two books of scripture that came to us through a modern prophet, Joseph Smith.