The Chain that Veils: A Word Play in Moses 7:26?

As I’ll explain in more detail in the near future, an important verse in considering possible connections between the ancient brass plates and the Book of Moses is found in Moses 7:26, which refers to a vision of Enoch:

26 And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced.

Tonight as I was writing about this verse, I was curious about the imagery. How could a chain veil the earth? Chains aren’t especially opaque. Fortunately, Hebrew is. So I used my Blue Letter Bible app to search for “veil” and “chain” in the Old Testament. The first hits I found for both gave me these words:

  • Candidate for “chain”: Strong’s H7242 (רָבִיד), rabiyd, a neck chain or collar according to Gesenius’s Lexicon, used in Genesis 41:42 (Pharaoh gives Joseph “a gold chain about his neck”) and Ezekiel 16:11 (“I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put … a chain on thy neck”).
  • Candidate for “veil”/”vail”: Strong’s H7289 (רָדִיד), radiyd, a “veil” in Song of Songs 5:7 and “vails” in Isaiah 3:23, a word which means something spread, a wide wrapper or large veil, or, in Gesenius’s Lexicon, “a wide and thin female garment, a cloak.”

Bring me down to earth on the problems with these proposals, please, but for now, I quite like these possibilities. If these words were actually used in a Hebrew document (say, on the brass plates–more on that later), then Satan’s chain, a rabiyd,  wouldn’t necessarily be something that looks frightening, but is something ornamental and attractive, the kind we might gladly receive and wear around our necks with pride, only to realize too late that, like the golden handcuffs we speak of in the business world, it limits our freedom. Satan’s pretty chains are chains of slavery. They connect us to his crushing yoke and lead us captive into bitter servitude. And we like fools are happy to clasp them around out necks. “Wow, thanks, it’s so shiny!”

Second, the veil as some form of radiyd would seem appropriate, for it would be a cloak, spread out widely over the earth. And what a nice word play with rabiyd. Four letters, three of which are identical, and the “b” and “d” sounds aren’t that distant phonetically. To me, it sounds like a winner as far as Hebraic word plays go. But I really don’t know, so I welcome your feedback. Of course, the Book of Moses has “veiled” as a verb, not a noun, but perhaps “veiled” could be translation of a construction literally meaning something like “to act as a veil.” Let me know if that is a problem.

If this could be a legitimate albeit speculative word play in Hebrew that someone has already noticed and written about, either regarding Moses 7:26 or some extant Hebrew text, I would appreciate a reference to cite. I’m working on an article where it might be helpful to cite such a reference. In any case, I think that Moses 7:26, word play or not, has some significance for the Book of Mormon that I hope to discuss more fully as part of an article I’m working on. If the word play is plausible, it would add a little more intrigue to the beauty of the LDS scriptures.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

165 thoughts on “The Chain that Veils: A Word Play in Moses 7:26?

  1. If you could make your rabiyd into the headband that would suspend a veil over the face, instead of a necklace, then you might perhaps turn this verse into an image of Satan marrying the Earth, and adorning her with a veil of darkness. I'm not sure there are really any marriage customs where the groom veils the bride, but maybe Satan's deception is firmly established as a kind of veiling, and it's enough to just associate that with a bridal veil.

    Moses 7 seems to be mainly about the taking up of the holy city of Zion into heaven, while the rest of the earth falls into Satan's power. Bridal imagery here would therefore be a sort of perverse echo of Revelation 21, in which the New Jerusalem descends from heaven adorned as a bride.

    If Mormons are edified by any of this hypothetical reconstruction of original Hebrew wordplay or imagery, then great. I don't think it works well as apologetic, because when one allows oneself this much freedom to speculate about hypothetical Hebrew originals, it's just not surprising that one can come up with a certain number of plausible cases. A jingle of rabiyd and radiyd may be better than a great chain that veils, but it's not a jackpot of profound meaning that makes the reconstruction compelling.

    The theory that Moses 7:26 had a more coherent Hebrew original is also somewhat problematic, it seems to me. Whatever an original Hebrew might have been, bridal image or jingling wordplay, the English text is just awkward. If the Hebrew original was better, the translation failed to capture it. As I understand it, the Book of Moses is supposed to have been revealed to Joseph Smith by God, or miraculously translated by the power of God. So how well does it really fit with Mormon doctrine, to suggest that Moses 7:26 is a bad translation?

  2. I have always thought it interesting that a study of holy writ has something for everyone. It gives satisfaction to those simply seeking for hope and peace, yet also gives those searching for deeper meaning something more to do.

    I don't think Jeff was looking for – or claims to have found – some earth-shattering evidence for LDS belief or interpretation. It seems he is just trying to appreciate some of the subtleties of scripture that are not readily apparent, but that enhance the experience and understanding one might (and often does) get with more in-depth searching.

  3. James, I suggest the following because of your interest and work in the hard sciences. This particular matter aside, no hard evidence from the BofM that you have encountered works well as an apologetic for you. Your soft judgments on these topics are rather uninteresting at this point. What would be interesting is for you to engage substantial hard evidence of your choosing, write an article for a receptive Mormon journal arguing for a naturalistic view, against the apologetic. Then the debate could be engaged academically. Cheers.

  4. @ anonymous:

    I'm sorry if my comments are uninteresting. I'm just curious about how Mormons think about things. It surprises me that intelligent people can really believe some of the things Mormons believe, but evidently some intelligent people can and do, so I'm curious about how. Several times I've gotten answers here that did help me see how an intelligent person could take the Mormon viewpoint. When this has happened, I've acknowledged it.

    I don't know what substantial hard evidence for the Book of Mormon I could choose to engage, since as far as I know, there is none. "Substantial hard evidence", to me, would be something like the ruins of Zarahemla. Arguments which only purport to show that if Joseph Smith were a fraud, then he would have to have been an awfully darn good fraud, do not count for me as substantial hard evidence for the Book of Mormon.

  5. @bearyb:

    Reading again my sentence "If Mormons are edified by any of this …, then great," I admit it sounds a bit snarky. But I really didn't mean it that way. If people get something out of this, then that is great. I recently argued here that God could in principle send meaningful revelations in snowfall, or in redacted compilations of ancient myth. However the Book of Moses really came about, if you can find meaning in it, then you've found meaning.

    I also really am curious, though, about how the kind of in-depth searching that Jeff has done in this post really jives with the Mormon theory of revelation. Biblical scholars often clarify strange passages by improving on poor translations from the original versions. When this happens, the original versions are usually available, at least with fairly high confidence. Occasionally there is speculation on what an unavailable original version might have been.

    For example, I've heard such a speculation about Jesus's famous statement that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The speculation was that there might have been either wordplay in what Jesus actually said, or confusion about translating it into Greek, because in Aramaic the word for 'camel' sounds a lot like the word for 'rope'. What Jesus actually said might therefore (says this speculation) not really have been quite as absurdly extreme as the version we have.

    Even in that case, there actually is an ancient Aramaic version of the New Testament; and many Christians would accept that Jesus's spoken words could have been imperfectly preserved in the Greek texts, because minor discrepancies among the oldest manuscripts have long been known. No translation into English has ever been considered inspired, and so improving the English text with the help of original versions is perfectly in order. Given the different Mormon teaching about how the English text of the Mormon scriptures was produced, it's just honestly unclear to me how Mormons really think about the kind of point that Jeff has made in this post.

  6. "As I understand it, the Book of Moses is supposed to have been revealed to Joseph Smith by God, or miraculously translated by the power of God. So how well does it really fit with Mormon doctrine, to suggest that Moses 7:26 is a bad translation?"

    James, you may be overstating the extent to which Mormons believe that the Book of Moses is a revealed translation, or you may be conflating the Book of Mormon translation with the Book of Moses translation.

    Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon translation was revealed, and I think it's safe to say that most Mormons would accept Joseph Smith's statement that the Book of Mormon is the "most correct book on earth." But even then, we don't believe in inerrency. The Book of Mormon itself claims that it is not perfect. I suppose you could draw a distinction between the text and the translation and argue that even if the text itself is not perfect, the translation was perfect, as it was inspired/revealed, but I think even the most conservative Mormon would accept the possibility of translation errors in the Book of Mormon.

    The case for inerrency in the Book of Moses is even weaker. It was not a separate revelation, but was a part of Joseph Smith's biblical revision, which he referred to as a "translation." Joseph Smith did not, to my knowledge, ever make any claim that his biblical revision was "the most correct," such as he did with the Book of Mormon. And the majority of the biblical revision (called the Joseph Smith Translation, or JST by the LDS church) is not even accepted as canonized scripture by the church. It is treated as a helpful study aid, but not a replacement for the KJV. The Book of Moses has been canonized, but the fact that it was canonized and the rest of the translation was not is really more the result of historical accident than a conscious decision that the Book of Moses is somehow more reliable than the rest of the JST.

    So in short, Mormons don't claim the sort of inerrency for the Book of Moses that your comments seem to assume. The closest Mormons come to inerrency is the belief that the Book of Mormon translation was inspired by God, but even then, we don't claim that that makes it without error.

    I'm also not sure that Jeff is arguing that these verses are a "bad translation" as much as they are a more literal translation. Every translator has to choose between on the one hand sticking closer to the source language, which will yield a more literal translation, but will obscure poetry, rhyme, meter, etc., and some of the idiomatic meanings that are apparent in the source langauge, and on the other hand trying to translating some of the elements of rhyme, meter, idioms, etc. into the target language, which will require a much looser, less literal translation. I think the point that Jeff is making here is not that these verses are a bad translation, but that they are a much more literal translation, which obscures the hypothetical Hebrew wordplay unless you know how to back into it by hypothesizing what the Hebrew source words are.

    To answer your question about how Mormons think about that kind of point, personally, as somebody who is an active, believing member of the LDS church, I regard the kind of point like that made in the OP as sort of mildly interesting, but far to speculative to really prove anything. I certainly wouldn't base my decision to accept the claims of the church on it. But if somebody finds meaning in it, I won't begrudge them that. I actually thought your comment that it was not a very convincing apologetic, but potentially useful as devotional material was pretty well-stated. But then I don't find much use for apologetics, personally, so I may be a biased source.

  7. So in short, Mormons don't claim the sort of inerrency for the Book of Moses that your comments seem to assume.

    A lot of Mormons would disagree with you about that. Can you give us an example of an error in the Book of Moses?

  8. Ah: thanks very much for the clarification. I had indeed been assuming that the Book of Moses was considered to be revealed like the Book of Mormon, perhaps even under 'tight control'. If this isn't actually part of Mormon belief, then Jeff's kind of hypothetical expansion of the canonized text is clearly not such a problem.

    And, once we are not talking about divine translation, then 'bad translation' might indeed just mean ordinary human translation, which makes compromises. Conceivably the original was just awfully tricky to put into English, and Smith went for a literal rendering. Suggestions about a hypothetical original text for the Book of Moses are still more speculative than analogous suggestions about original Bible texts, but Jeff's just making a suggestion.

    And from the general tone of his post, I think it probably is directed more towards Mormons than to non-Mormons. Jeff likes to use putative Hebraisms in the English texts of Mormon scripture as apologetic evidence, but in this case he seems to be offering the same kind of thinking just as food for Mormon thought — kind of like a restaurant owner serving their own family the same food that's on the menu for guests. To use the crude business buzzword, Jeff is "dogfooding".

    I think this is an important part of what a good apologist should be doing, even though it isn't apologetics per se, because it would be bad if apologetic arguments became entirely separate from the thinking of already committed believers. Suppose some religious apologist comes up with an absolute humdinger of an apologetic argument, which somehow reels in converts like crazy, but which is just utterly foreign to the whole mental and spiritual culture of the religion as it is actually practiced. That argument would really be at best a bait-and-switch, which is a pretty dishonest tree to be growing the fruit of true faith. To make sure this doesn't happen, it probably helps to keep doing things like this post of Jeff's, to maintain contact between the apologetic front lines and the home front.

  9. Suppose some religious apologist comes up with an absolute humdinger of an apologetic argument, which somehow reels in converts like crazy, but which is just utterly foreign to the whole mental and spiritual culture of the religion as it is actually practiced.

    Happens all the time. My wife was drummed out of her relief society teaching calling for saying that not everything that comes out of the church authorities' mouths is revelation, but that's a favorite apologetic argument.

  10. I'm just curious about how Mormons think about things. It surprises me that intelligent people can really believe some of the things Mormons believe, but evidently some intelligent people can and do, so I'm curious about how.

    Let's start with the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith referred to it as "the keystone of our religion." That means that without it, the LDS Church would not exist. It is the most tangible evidence we have of Joseph's prophetic calling.

    So how could an "intelligent" person ever believe in such a thing? The answer lies not in "hard evidence," but in experimenting on the word. How or why does anyone believe in the Bible? Same way, hopefully. The correct process is explained in great detail in Alma 32, with other examples found througout the book, and with a clear challenge to engage in the process in Moroni 10.

    A "testimony" based on any other thing besides the result of such an experiment is shaky at best. Unless and until a person has tried it they have no grounds upon which to base any criticism of such belief as can result – similar to so many other things in life that, until experienced, may not be understood.

    So, if anyone wants to destroy the Church, they will first have to destroy the Book of Mormon.

    Though not the basis of my belief in the BoM, it seems to me that evidences supporting it grow stronger, while arguments against it are sorely lacking.

    What surprises me is that so many intelligent people do not recognize or acknowledge the inner longing of their soul to know of such things, or indeed, that they can be known. It seems much easier to distract ourselves with other, more apparently pressing temporal considerations while ignoring the weightier matters of eternal things. After all, the spiritual consequences of decisions do not seem immediate or tangible, especially for those not accustomed to recognizing them.

    As an example at the other extreme, consider Christ's response when the woman touched the hem of His robe in the crowd. What did He say, and what could He have possibly meant by it?

  11. Bearyb,

    This test you use to determine the truthfulness of the BoM, it can be applied to any religious text or even any self-help book. It is not a test that can be relied upon to determine which church to join. I can read Mere Christianity and put into practice C. S. Lewis's beliefs about the Christian life. If I receive fruit from this, does that therefore mean that the Trinitarian doctrine, which Lewis expounds upon so eloquently in Mere Christianity, is true? Or if I read the Koran, and put into practice those admonitions, and receive blessings in my life, does that mean I should convert to Islam?

    And what do you do after you read the Book of Mormon and gain a testimony that God is unchangeable from all eternity and to all eternity (Moroni 8:18), and join the church, but then find out that, as Smith preached in 1844, "we have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity," but that Smith refuted this idea and preached that God was not unchangeable, but he was once a man. What do you do then?

  12. Perhaps the past eternity — æternitas a parte ante — is anchored to terrestrial or human time. Who knows.

  13. It may be that many people ignore their souls' longings. But I wouldn't say that everyone who is not convinced by the Book of Mormon must be doing that. Billions of human beings are religious. Less than 1% of these are Mormon.

  14. Everything Before Us:

    Sorry to jump in between you and Bearyb, but to me, if there is a conflict between canonized scripture and uncanonized preaching, it seems to me almost a no-brainer that scripture trumps preaching. But maybe that's a cop-out. It's clear that many Mormons give precedence to the later sermons of Joseph Smith over passages like the one you cite from Mormon, and there are all kinds of ways to reconcile that if that's what you want to do. Anonymous hints at one of them.

    For me, personally, I think we have to recognize that on the more speculative things such as the nature of God, even canonized scripture does not speak with one voice. The only things on which scripture is arguably pretty well united are the message of the gospel, that Christ came to do the will of the Father, and will draw all men to him on conditions of repentance, and will give the Holy Ghost to those that come to him and are baptized. Those are the things that I'm certain of, and quite honestly, that's more than enough to keep me occupied. On everything else–including things like whether in some far distant time–so long ago so as to be characterized as before "eternity"–God was changing or unchanging, I can live with uncertainty.

  15. Toni, which version? 🙂 It was revised multiple times, and lots of mistakes were corrected, which it could not have been if it was inerrent ab initio. Seriously, here's a good, but very general overview of the textual history of the Book of Moses.

    Maybe you're saying that it wasn't inerrent in the first draft, but it became inerrent by the time it got to the last draft? That seems like an odd argument to make. Maybe there are some Mormons who claim that the Book of Moses in inerrent. I've never met one.