LDS scholars, beginning with Hugh Nibley, have argued that the Mahijah in the Book of Moses corresponds with Mahawai from the Book of Giants, which was found with the Dead Sea Scrolls. In his 2019 article on early Mormon texts, Colby Townsend makes a case that they are fundamentally different names and that Nibley only thought they were the same because he was relying on an English transliteration where the English characters were the same.

The LDS argument

Excerpt from Townsend

The following is an excerpt from Colby Townsend’s 2019 article Returning to the Sources: Integrating Textual Criticism in the Study of Early Mormon Texts and History:

Mahijah/Mahujah or Mahujah/Mahujah?

The final example I will share is a case study in how textual criticism complicates Mormon exegetical history and invites historians to return to the sources and further analyze what we know about Mormon history. In this case I examine how the late Brigham Young University professor Hugh Nibley, one of Mormonism’s most popular scholars, mistook two names and, through a lack of rigorous transcriptions methods, presented an error in the textual history of early Jewish and early Mormon texts.

In the final installment of his “A Strange Thing in the Land” series on the connections between the Book of Moses and ancient traditions about Enoch, Nibley argued that there was an undeniable connection between the names Mahijah and Mahujah in the Book of Moses and Mahawai found in the Aramaic Book of Giants in the Dead Sea Scrolls.[64] This has been slightly popularized through an account of one of Nibley’s students, Gordon Thomasson, who was studying at Cornell University in the late 1970s and spoke with Matthew Black, one of the major scholars on Enoch at the time,[65] about Nibley’s work on Mahijah and Mahujah. The idea that this example is an objective piece of data that argues for the antiquity of the Book of Moses becomes complicated as the sources are more closely analyzed.[66]

First, the names in the two traditions are not the same, contra Nibley’s argument. The tri-literal roots for both names are in fact different, making the two different names altogether. The biblical tradition that the Book of Moses is dependent on, as Nibley notes, in Gen. 4:18 has two spellings for the same name, minus the theophoric element present in the names -el: מחוי (“Mahujah”) and מחיי (“Mahijah”). It is likely that Mahujah is the misspelling, caused by the similarity between a vav (ו) and a yod (י). [67] In the 4QEnGiants fragments we do not find this name but a different one: מהוי (“Mahawai”).[68] The fact that there is a letter difference between a he (ה) and a chet (ח) moves us from one etymological study and meaning of the name to another name entirely. Mahijah/Mahujah, which are the same name, come from the root מחה, “destroyed” or “smitten” one,[69] and Mahawai from the Book of Giants comes from the root היה, “to be,” “to happen,” “to occur,” or “to come to pass.”[70] These are two completely separate names that are easily confused when transliterated into English from the Hebrew.[71] Nibley relied too heavily on his English transcription of both names—MHWY—and failed to recognize that the H represents two distinct letters.

Besides the difficulties and confusion of the two names Nibley faced when transliterating the text, there is also the question about creating a reliable transcription of this passage in OT1. The passage in question, corresponding to Moses 6:40, is found on page 13 of OT1 and is in the hand of Emma Smith.[72] At first reading the text looks like it clearly reads “Mahijah,” but a closer look reveals some difficulty in coming to a definitive conclusion. The i in Mahijah is irregular once you compare it to other examples in Emma’s hand, particularly in the way that there are two points of hesitation in the writing where the smooth flow is broken by hook-like movements, almost the same as when creating the top of an i. It is possible that the i is actually a u, and Emma mistakenly added the dot over the i as she wrote to keep up with Smith’s dictation. A closer examination of OT1 highlights how Emma made mistakes in punctuation while scribing for the manuscript. There are not many examples of Emma’s handwriting outside of OT1, but there are enough in this manuscript to make a set of observations.

One of the first letters to analyze is Emma’s j. There are only four examples of j in her writing on OT1, and two of them begin with a smooth curve up to the top of the j. The other two, of which “Mahijah” is one, start with a smooth curve, hook once, and then curve again up to the top of the j. This irregular example is only made more difficult by the fact that the extant examples are 50/50, highlighting how the possibility of that first hook on the j in “Mahijah” is not going to help in deciding whether or not the vowel is an i or a u.

Emma’s u’s are far more numerous and consistent. When Emma wrote the letter u her form was the same as her writing two i’s consecutively, although the second part of the letter was often weak and not written as high as the first. On page 12 Emma wrote “mouth,” and the second upward stroke is cut short in order to hook back down and begin the base of the t. On the same page she wrote “mouths,” and the second part of the u was so low that the letter had to be fixed with an extra dark line, making it clear that the letter was a u and not an i. In all of the examples of Emma’s i’s except the one found in “Mahijah” the final curve of the downward stroke from the i to the new letter is smooth with no hesitation or stopping. The i in “Mahijah” is the only example that documents a deviation from her typical penmanship.

And finally, Emma made punctuation mistakes in OT1. It is apparent when closely reading the manuscript that Emma was hurrying. In some examples she shares the cross of a t between two words, suggesting that she had to quickly write both words before she could provide the punctuation. In one irregular example on page 12 Emma crossed the l in “councils,” so a far too literal transcription would read “councits.” Clearly, she meant “councils,” but this suggests that Emma’s writing for this manuscript was prone to error. The punctuation she added for the i in Mahijah could have been hastily added as a mistake as she added the dot for the j, and a weak u would have looked like an i next to a j that needed its dot.

It is also possible that the name in Emma’s hand should be read Mahujah since the place name is Mahujah on page 15 in OT1, but this is complicated by the fact that it is in John Whitmer’s hand. As is common in the Book of Mormon, places were often named after significant men.[73] It is likely that the place Mahujah was named after the person in the previous chapter and that person should be read as Mahujah rather than Mahijah. Especially since the generations of Enoch were the first men to inhabit creation.

In any case, the idea that if Smith intended the two separate names Mahijah and Mahujah that he would need to be dependent on an ancient manuscript or source is also unlikely. In his commentary on the Bible Adam Clarke, whose commentary was known to Smith while he worked on his revision of the Bible,[74] created a table he called “Same Names Differing in the Hebrew,” and the first examples he shared were from Gen. 4:18: “Mehujael” and “Mehijael.”[75] It was possible, contrary to recent opinion, that Smith and his contemporaries were aware of the spelling difference of the name found in Genesis 4.[76] English speaking Americans living in New York during the early national period had access to important scholarship such as Clark’s, which requires that scholars consider the broader literary texts available at the time and their relationship to the Mormon canon.

[64] Hugh Nibley, Enoch the Prophet (The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 2; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1986), 277–281.

[65] A transcription of his account is found in Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and Ryan Dahle, “Could Joseph Smith Have Drawn on Ancient Manuscripts When He Translated the Story of Enoch?: Recent Updates on a Persistent Question,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship Vol. 33 (2019): 318–319. Bradshaw and Dahle provide an inaccurate link that goes to the wrong video on YouTube in endnote 74 on page 354. The correct address is (Last accessed November 14, 2019).

[66] Nibley, Enoch the Prophet, 277.

[67] Ronald S. Hendel, The Text of Genesis I–II: Textual Studies and Critical Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 48.

[68] J. T. Milik, ed., The Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments of Qumran Cave 4 (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1976), 305.

[69] See Hendel, The Text of Genesis I–II, 47; and Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, Study Edition, Volume 1: ע – א) Leiden: Brill, 2001), 567–568.

[70] Koehler and Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, Study Edition, Volume 1: 243, ע – א .This is a different word than חיו” ,to be alive,” “preserve,” etc., which is related to Mahijah/Mahujah. Koehler and Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, Study Edition, Volume 1: 309, ע – א.

[71] I thank Ryan Thomas for assisting me with several questions related to this section.

[72] Emma was the scribe for most of pages 12–14 on OT1. Faulring, Jackson, and Matthews, Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible, 63.

[73] There are dozens of examples of this practices throughout the Book of Mormon, but Alma 8:7 provides the clearest statement about it.

[74] Thomas A. Wayment and Haley Wilson Lemmon, “A Recently Recovered Source: The Use of Adam Clark’s Bible Commentary in Joseph Smith’s Bible Translation,” in Michael Hubbard MacKay, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Brian M. Hauglid, eds., Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, forthcoming).

[75] Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments (New York: Published by N. Bangs and J. Emory, 1825), 151.

[76] Bradshaw and Dahle, “Could Joseph Smith Have Drawn on Ancient Manuscripts When He Translated the Story of Enoch?: Recent Updates on a Persistent Question,” 315–317.


A post by /u/Broliblish here was helpful in compiling LDS sources on the topic. Thanks to Colby Townsend for alerting me to his recent work on this topic.