In my research at the University of Utah I have mainly focused on Hebrew and Jewish studies, but have had the opportunity of taking a good sampling of courses on Mormon history, text, and practice as well. Both in and out of class I have read many studies that seek to understand Mormon scripture better in its own context, and in so doing have read works that study Mormon scripture devotionally, defend Mormon scripture apologetically, attack Mormon scripture antagonistically, or just simply find Mormon scripture fascinating for understanding western religious traditions.

I would like to comment on a trend that I have seen from the side of defending Mormon scripture and offer what I think might be a more appropriate way of discussing the issues. I do not mean to suggest that my way is the only way or even best way to do it, but I would like to point out something that I view as a major flaw that can easily be remedied. I also do not mean to either defend or attack. I am simply proposing that if anyone is going to compare Mormon scripture with past historical documents and cultures that one should be careful to watch for this, in my opinion, fatal flaw.

I would also point out that I am not the first to bring this up. It has been discussed for decades in wider biblical studies (and is therefore not simply an issue within Mormon studies), at least since Samuel Sandmel’s 1962 article in Journal of Biblical Literature entitled, “Parallelomania,”[1] and has been discussed in a Mormon context a little over a decade ago by Douglas F. Salmon.[2] The reason I would like to discuss this now is that I am still hearing that many members of the church, even in academic institutions, continue to simply draw parallels between the past and something Joseph Smith translated or taught, ask how he could have known, and then simply leave it at that without providing any further insight into the matter.[3]

One example of this type of hermeneutic can be found in a recent blog post at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute (MI) at Brigham Young University (BYU). The post was authored by Matthew Roper in early 2013 and is titled “Premortal existence of a ‘First Man’ suggested in the book of Job.”[4] Roper has worked as a research associate at the MI for over twenty years, first at FARMS before it merged with the MI in 2006.

Roper’s main thesis is (1) the LDS teaching that Adam had a premortal existence and “was present at the planning and creation of the earth” is noteworthy, and (2) this idea is supported by recent research on the book of Job by Dexter Callender, a scholar of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament.[5] In order to make his point, Roper briefly goes through the following four steps: (1) the primal man in Job 15:7 is described as being “brought forth,” rather than “created” or “formed” as in Gen. 1 and 2, which means that the birth of the primal man as described in Job 15 is “an event distinct from that described in Genesis”;[6] (2) in contrast to the account in Gen. where man’s body is created on the sixth day, in Job he is born “before the hills” (15:7); (3) the first man is placed in God’s heavenly council, where he had access to heavenly wisdom; and (4) Job would not be able to answer the questions God asks in Job 38-41, but the primal man would have. Since he was the first man and had been born before the creation of the earth, he took part in shouting with the sons of God for joy.

As Roper states, this idea will resonate with many members of the Church, but as I will highlight in this post these connections are not as firm as they first appear to be. First, I would like to point out that the research Roper is dependent on is all supported by critical scholarly methods. The translations, and the discussions of grammar that he provided, are all accurate and reliable from what I can tell. It is not the research itself that is the problem; rather, it is how the research is stripped by Roper from its own context and placed into LDS theology that there are issues.


The Primal Man in Job


The cumulative framework that is provided by Roper in citing Callender, Koehler and Baumgartner, May, and Wyatt of the description of the birth of the primal man and his witnessing creation must be stressed. The first man is, as Callender points out, was born through the natural process of birth, labor pains and all.[7] This first man has a physical body through the natural birthing process, and receives wisdom as he witnesses the council of God and the creation of the earth, but he is the only human there. As Callender points out

According to Eliphaz, the wisdom of the primal human came as a result of his presence within the council of God, and the fact that he ‘listened’. The knowledge at issue belongs to the gods, and not to common humanity…this higher knowledge is connected with the primordium, and is closely associated with creation. The primal human…was present at the creation and by virtue of that fact possessed wisdom in its most intimate details. The divine speeches in chapters 38-41 make clear that the secrets of the universe lie within the primordium, the epoch of creation. As one who ‘was born there’, he knew the deepest and most esoteric of knowledge.[8]

According to Callender, in Job the primal man was the only human being to have access to this kind of wisdom because he was the only one born before the creation of the world. No other human witnessed these events, and this knowledge is privy only to him and to the gods. It was not possible for Job to have this wisdom because he was not there, and he can only have these events described to him in narrative detail in chapters 38-41 to attain even a glimpse of what happened then.

Unfortunately, Roper does not cite this section of Callender’s monograph. This is not necessarily a fault to Roper, but as will be seen this point is very important once we attempt to compare the image of the primal man in Job with that found in LDS scripture.


The Pre-existence of Adam in LDS Scripture and Thought


As noted by Roper, Adam is not only the “first man” in LDS scripture, but he also had a premortal existence where he was present for the planning of the creation of the earth with other “noble and great ones” (Abraham 3:22-26). In Mormon thought not only was Adam there, but all humankind pre-existed and had a premortal experience before the world was created (D&C 93:23, 29). This is in stark contrast to the book of Job’s description of the primal man as being the only one present. This is a significant difference, and should be noted accordingly if we are to fully understand the connection between Job and LDS scripture. In Job the “sons of God” that shouted for joy are not other human beings, but rather are “celestials” or “gods” themselves.[9] Callender makes this explicit in the above quotation when he states that this knowledge did not belong to common humanity, but rather to the gods.

If we are to take Roper’s placement of the narrative of Job in an LDS context further, there is another problem that is as big as the first. In Job the primal man has a physical body at creation. Mormon belief in Adam’s pre-existence excludes his having a body in the council of heaven and also at the time of creation. It is also believed that when Adam was in mortality, like all men (even Jesus) a veil was placed over his mind that allowed him to forget his past existence so that he would be able to use his agency in making correct choices and following God’s commandments. Not only does this image contradict the narrative of Job by placing the primal man in a spirit body rather than a physical one, it includes several details found nowhere in the book of Job. The primal man in Job is never explicitly said to have lost his wisdom once he is born, specifically because he is born physically before creation, negating the idea that he would at some point forget his experience prior to and during creation.

It is admitted that many of the LDS beliefs pointed out above are noted without citation of scripture, but this follows the mainstream understanding of the common chronology of human existence through our pre-existent state and into mortality, and is taught often at any given church or seminary building as part of the “Plan of Salvation.” In this light, I am only taking Roper’s placing of Job’s narrative in an LDS context to its furthest logical conclusion. If one was to accept the connection that Roper creates between the primal man and our Mormon version of Adam we would have to alter how it is we understand the chronology of the Plan of Salvation. I would venture to guess that most members, and the Church in general, would be unwilling to conform our view to this scripture, and it would be just as harmful to force our theological view on Job. Unfortunately, this is exactly what Roper has done in his blog post, and is a prime example of the trend I noted at the beginning of this essay.


One More Issue With Roper’s Use of Scholarly Literature


Throughout Roper’s essay he seems to assume that the “primal man” in Job is the exact same individual as haadam (“the man”) in the priestly account in Gen. 1, and Adam in the Yahwistic account in Gen. 2-4 (and the noun Adam does not appear until Gen. 4:25; up to that point it is still “the man”). These accounts in Gen. and Job are all recognized today as coming from different authors at various periods of time. In Roper’s second point, summarized above, he only compares Job 15:7 to Gen. 1’s description of Adam as being born “on the sixth day.” He completely excludes a separate comparison with Gen. 2, where the creation of the man is placed very early on in the process of creation, though still different from Job’s description. It is essential to take into account the fact that each of these texts were written by different people. When making these kinds of comparisons we must not only be aware of these issues, but allow our audiences to be aware of them as well as they carry a lot of weight in how we understand the comparison.


Comments Going Further


This essay has not been written to disparage from making comparisons similar to those made by Roper. Rather, I welcome whole-heartedly the study of these kinds of parallels, and I hope that many are not only interested in this subject but that more people in the Church will get interested in it. This essay is to show that we cannot simply make a quick connection between our LDS thought and teachings with that of an ancient text and leave it there, forcing our paradigm onto the text. We must instead find these interesting parallels, note them, and open up discussion about the similarities and differences between our latter-day scriptural texts and ancient scriptural records and have a continuing dialogue about them in our community. This is especially important when we have so much material in the scholarly world easily at our reach through print and online publications. We have to be aware of the problems that come with making quick conclusions about parallels, and instead spend time getting to know the various intricacies of these texts. Not only are these ancient documents, the hundreds of texts inside and outside of the canon of the Hebrew Bible, worth it, but they’re ancient authors and readers deserve it too. Just the same as the documents that we will one day leave behind deserve to be understood in their context and not automatically placed into one that we did not intend them to be, we need to show these ancient texts the reverence and respect they call for and deserve by being aware of the information about the time and place that they were written. Only then can we correct this trend that has provided a false sense of holistic connection, and only then can we open up these texts to our further understanding.



[1] See Samuel Sandmel, “Parallelomania,” Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 81, No. 1 (March, 1962), 1-13.

[2] Douglas F. Salmon, “Parallelomania and the Study of Latter-day Scripture: Confimation, Coincidence, or the Collective Unconscious?” in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought Vol. 33, No. 2 (Summer, 2000), 129-156.

[3] Not every example fits this categorization. In the broader context, other examples can include simply bringing up a similar word, phrase, or idea between LDS scripture and ancient documents, quoting an authority or two, and making a partial contribution to exploring the connections. This will be examined in further in this post.


[5] Dexter Callender, Jr., Adam in Myth and History: Ancient Israelite Perspectives on the Primal Human (Harvard Semitic Studies, 48; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2000). This monograph is a revised version of Callender’s PhD dissertation completed at Harvard University in 1995.

[6] See Roper’s blog post, second paragraph.

[7] Callender, Adam in Myth and History, 141. This is especially stressed in the use of the verb ḥwl (Roper mistakenly has ḥyl, but the two verbs are related), as pointed out by Callender here in his monograph. The verb means “to dance (round),” and in the context of birth denotes the writhing of the mother. As Callender says, “hence [one] can render the meaning ‘to bear or bring forth’.”

[8] Callender, Adam in Myth and History, 175-176.

[9] See the Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh translation of Exodus 15:11 in Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish Study Bible (2nd Ed.; New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).


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