[This post is part of a series about possible evidence or clues in LDS theology that the Flood of Noah was a local event, rather than a globally-covering deluge. This particular clue is from the Pearl of Great Price.]
In the beginning of Moses 7, in the Pearl of Great Price, Enoch sees a vision. This vision, at first glance, seems pretty random and unnecessary, to be honest. It’s about two groups of people, far in Enoch’s future, that meet up and battle it out. One of the groups (the people of Canaan) prevails over the other (the people of Shum) and lives on in a cursed and barren land.
I think this story holds a lot of little clues that create big implications for Noah’s Flood. It creates some timeline issues; it possibly complicates explanations of how the seed of how apparently non-Noahite groups made it through a global Flood; and it may describe events that are just now coming to light through archaeology and genetic studies. In short, I think we need to take some time and look a bit deeper into the story of the people of Shum.
There’s a lot here, so let’s do this.
THE PEOPLES OF CANAAN AND SHUM
4 And I saw the Lord; and he stood before my face, and he talked with me, even as a man talketh one with another, face to face; and he said unto me: Look, and I will show unto thee the world for the space of many generations.
5 And it came to pass that I beheld in the valley of Shum, and lo, a great people which dwelt in tents, which were the people of Shum.
6 And again the Lord said unto me: Look; and I looked towards the north, and I beheld the people of Canaan, which dwelt in tents.
7 And the Lord said unto me: Prophesy; and I prophesied, saying: Behold the people of Canaan, which are numerous, shall go forth in battle array against the people of Shum, and shall slay them that they shall utterly be destroyed; and the people of Canaan shall divide themselves in the land, and the land shall be barren and unfruitful, and none other people shall dwell there but the people of Canaan;
8 For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people. (Moses 7:4-8)
What in the world was that? Nobody seems to know; but here I offer six possible clues from this passage that could be telling us that Noah’s Flood was a small one and more than eight people survived it.
FIRST: MANY GENERATIONS
The Lord says he’s going to show to Enoch the world “for the space of many generations” (Moses 7:4). And then Enoch sees the people of Shum and the people of Canaan and prophesies about them. To me, this looks like Enoch is seeing “many generations” into the future of these two groups of people, meaning that the destruction of the people of Shum by the people of Canaan will happen many years after the time of Enoch’s vision.
What doesn’t fit the model of a global flood is that from Enoch to Noah is only four generations. It’s five generations if you go to Noah’s three sons. I don’t know about you, but four or five generations isn’t that “many”. If the destruction of the people of Shum happens “many generations” into Enoch’s future, then it wouldn’t make sense if it happens before the Flood. It would have to happen after, right? And if it did happen after, who are these people and why are they important enough for the Lord to show them to His prophet Enoch? Were they extra-ark survivors of the Flood?
Granted, the four generations from Enoch to Noah spans, according to the chronology given in the Bible, something like 600 years, which is a lot of normal-human generations (could be around 24 generations); so it’s still possible that the people of Shum were destroyed before the Flood. But if it was before the Flood, then why is it significant? Why would it matter if the people of Canaan were despised and the land was scorched with heat and barrenness if only a few decades would have to pass before everybody, the peoples of Shum and Canaan included would have been destroyed anyway (and the hot land immediately cooled off) by a world-devastating Flood? I suppose one could argue that the peoples of Shum and Canaan were both tribes that descended from Noah, and this all went down after the global Flood, but as you will see later on, this cannot be the case. (2)
SECOND: THE PEOPLE OF CANAAN AREN’T THE PEOPLE OF NOAH’S GRANDSON
The footnote on the word “Canaan” in Moses 7:6 in our current scriptures (2013 edition) links to Abraham 1:21, which appears to be implying Canaan, the son of Ham and grandson of Noah. Without much thought, one could think that Enoch’s vision of the future destruction of the people of Shum is done by the descendants of Canaan, Noah’s grandson. But there’s one big problem with that.
Moses 7:12, just 6 verses later, indicates that the people of Canaan are contemporaries with Enoch and likely lived and were established WAY before Noah was even born, not to mention Noah’s grandson. Verse 12 says that Enoch preached repentance to all the people around except for the people of Canaan. How could Enoch, centuries before the Flood, skip preaching to the people of a boy whose own grandfather likely hadn’t been born yet? Even though Enoch could see the future, I doubt he was a time traveller.
No, the people of Canaan in this story have to be a group that lived at the time of Enoch’s ministry and then persisted for many generations until they battled the people of Shum. Did they survive the Flood? And if they did, how? There surely wasn’t room for them on the ark. Who these people of Canaan were is a mystery, but, as you’ll see in the next section, Abraham may have known a bit more than us about their history.
THIRD: ABRAHAM MAY HAVE KNOWN ABOUT THEM
In Abraham 1:21, Abraham is explaining a bit about the current Pharaoh of Egypt, and tells us that this Pharaoh is “a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth.” The footnote on the word “Canaanites” in that verse links to Psalm 105:23 and Moses 7:6-8, associating not only these Canaanites to the family of Ham, but also back to the people of Canaan that Enoch knew of and to whom he decided not to preach. In the next verse, Abr. 1:22, the footnote on “Canaanites” brings up more references to Ham’s son Canaan, and again links back to Moses 7:6-8.
The problem with these footnotes is that we already know that the people of Canaan in Enoch’s time cannot be the family of Canaan son of Ham (see the previous section). They simply can’t be the same people. And these footnotes don’t help us since they leave the definition of the Canaanites whose blood flows in the veins of Pharaoh unknowable with any certainty—Are the Canaanites known by Abraham Enoch’s Canaan people or are they Ham’s Canaan people? Which one is it that he’s referring to?! Since we can’t be sure which, let’s talk about the implications of both.
If the Canaanites are meant to be the descendants of Ham’s son Canaan, then that would mean that Pharaoh could trace his descent to Ham through at least two different avenues: through Canaan and through the woman Egyptus, both of whom were children of Ham (see Abr. 1:21-27). Would that be strange? Not necessarily. It would just mean that a pair of Pharaoh’s ancestors were cousins to each other, that’s all. But it does seem a bit redundant for Abraham to say that Pharaoh is a descendant of Ham through Egyptus and he’s also “a partaker of the blood” of Canaan, the son of Ham (Abr. 1:21-22). But it’s entirely possible this scenario is the case.
If the Canaanites are meant to be the people of Canaan, contemporaries with Enoch, then how did they survive the great Flood? Since the origin stories of Pharaoh and Abraham are supposed to take place after the Flood, they must have pulled it off somehow. Perhaps one of Noah’s daughters-in-law was from the tribe of Canaan, and that’s how their blood persisted? Or was the Flood just a little local one, and the people of Canaan were entirely unaffected by it, to the point that they flourished and eventually gave rise to this Pharaoh? If the answer to the latter question is yes, then we have to wonder: Did Abraham know that more than eight people survived Noah’s flood? Was Abraham aware that the Flood was not a global catastrophe? He speaks of the Canaanites like they’re people we should already know about. Who were they? (3)
It’s pretty ambiguous from the scriptures we have, but the thought that Father Abraham may have known and lived in a world where everyone knew that the Flood was merely a local event, is beyond thrilling to me.
FOURTH: ENOCH DIDN’T PREACH TO THE PEOPLE OF CANAAN
In Moses 7:12, soon after Enoch receives the vision of the people of Shum being destroyed by the people of Canaan, we’re told that “Enoch continued to call upon all the people, save it were the people of Canaan, to repent”. Enoch is commanded by the Lord to preach repentance and baptism to all the people around (see Moses 7:9-11); but to the people of Canaan, he does not go. He doesn’t even send them a message to get their act together and do just a little bit better. He full-on skips over them. Enoch calls everybody to repentance, but strangely the author makes it a point that he does not ask the people of Canaan to do so.
Why is this? Wouldn’t the people of Canaan remain in their wickedness unless they repented? We typically think that leading up to the Flood, everybody except for eight people (Noah, his wife, and their three sons and their wives) were wicked, murderous, nasty, and ripe for destruction. If the people of Canaan weren’t asked to repent, then were they also not in danger of the Flood? As we’ve already discussed, “many generations” down the road, the children of Canaan are still alive, conquering the people of Shum, dividing themselves in the lands, and being despised by all people (see Moses 7:4-8). Enoch didn’t tell them to repent, yet here they are, generations later, still alive. Were they even warned of the impending floods (see Moses 7:34, 38)? Did they pass through the Flood unscathed to fulfill the prophecy of Enoch and destroy the people of Shum?
FIFTH: CANAAN IS SPELLED TWO WAYS IN DIFFERENT VERSIONS
In Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible (a JST Bible published by what’s now The Community of Christ) the word “Canaan” in Moses 7 is spelled “Cainan”. Is this significant, and can it provide clues to who these people were?
Moses 6 tells us that Enoch “came out of” the land of Cainan—a land named after Enoch’s great-grandfather, Cainan. Both this land of Cainan and the people of Canaan who annihilate the people of Shum are spelled “Cainan” in the JST book. But in our current LDS scriptures, the people of Canaan in Moses 7 are spelled the same way we’ve been using them here: “Canaan” (both ways, I presume, are pronounced the exact same way). Why is this? Is it a typo in the JST book, or were the destroyers of Shum originally spelled Cainan and the change to Canaan was made in subsequent editions? I don’t know a lot about the changes the Book of Moses went through for its various publications, but it’s possible that this spelling was intentionally changed for some reason during the process. (4)
Could the people of Canaan be the same as the people of the land of Cainan? If so, then I suppose you could say Enoch is one of the people of Canaan since that’s the land he came from—“the land of [his] fathers” (Moses 6:41). And yeah, they really could be Enoch’s homies! But I tend to think the two groups are not related for a couple of reasons: 1) Enoch calls the land of Cainan “a land of righteousness” (Moses 6:41), yet after a long time the people of Canaan will eventually go off and murder a group of people at Shum, and then will live the rest of their days in a cursed land. I know that anyone can stray from the path, but this type of behavior doesn’t behoove those of Cainan who were called “the people of God” (Moses 6:17). And the other reason, 2) It is made pretty clear that Enoch preaches repentance to all people EXCEPT the people of Canaan (Moses 7:12). If the people of Canaan were synonymous with the people in the land of Cainan, from whence Enoch came, then why would he not preach repentance to them? Wouldn’t he want his own family and friends to repent before the great destruction? We know from our own experience that even those generally living the commandments still need to repent, so it’s weird he would leave them out of his circuit. Because of this, I think they are probably two distinct groups, but, like I am a lot of the time, I could be completely wrong.
Another possibility: When first reading Moses 7 in the JST Bible, I wondered if this spelling discrepancy was intentional to show a kinship between the people of Canaan and the descendants of Cain—since the name “Cain” is definitely part of the name “Cainan”. Could they be the same people? I don’t think the text provides enough evidence to say for sure, but it’s definitely a possibility. Both groups are mentioned distinctly in Moses chapter 7 (see Moses 7:8, 22).
SIXTH: WHERE WERE THE PEOPLE OF SHUM?
If you didn’t notice in Moses 7:9, when Enoch sees the people around that needed repentance, he doesn’t see the people of Shum at all. Sure, he sees the people of Sharon, Enoch, Omner, Heni, Shem, Haner, and Hanannihah (see Moses 7:9-11); and he probably even sees the people of Canaan, before giving them a hard pass; but he doesn’t see the people of Shum–at least, he doesn’t see them in his present. During all this calling the humans in his vicinity to return to the Lord, why does Enoch not admonish the people of Shum to do the same?
One explanation could be that the people of Shum were far away from Enoch and well outside of his mission boundaries. Another could be that the people of Shum did not yet exist, and would not for “the space of many generations” (Moses 7:4). If the issue was one of distance, then is it possible that the people of Shum were far enough away to escape the fury of a local flood? That would definitely be evidence that more than eight souls survived Noah’s Flood.
And if the matter was because of being in the wrong time period, where did the people of Shum come from? If they were a pre-Flood clan, then, as we said before, why destroy them right before everybody gets wiped out by a global flood anyway? Why don’t they show up in Enoch’s immediate radar, and why weren’t they preached to? And if they lived as a post-Flood society, were they descendants of Noah or from a tribe that somehow survived the impending deluge without any ark ancestry? I think we need to explain who the heck these people were and why they are so important to mention in Enoch’s narrative. Why did the Lord show this to Enoch? And, more pertinent to us, I think: Why did Joseph Smith dictate this to his scribe?
When I discovered this strange story of the people of Canaan battling the people of Shum, I did what any other 21st century observer would do: I googled the word “Shum”. I hoped that something would come up to explain the origin of the word and why it ended up in Joseph Smith’s writings. Pretty much the only thing that came up was a Wikipedia article on Shum Laka, an archeological site in Cameroon, a country in Africa. According to this article, Shum Laka is a rockshelter site situated in a valley that was occupied with nomadic humans from about 32,000 to 800 years before present. I was immediately intrigued since the people of Shum lived in “the valley of Shum”, and “dwelt in tents”, like hunter-gatherers are prone to do (Moses 7:5, emphasis added); and because the time period fits with the traditional chronology of Enoch to Noah’s Flood (~2500 BC) and beyond. Whoa! Did the people of Shum live in or near Shum Laka? (5)
Now, this doesn’t mean that the people of Shum Laka, in that valley in Cameroon are for sure the same as the people of Shum. This is just a cursory, amateur, possible connection built on my very limited understanding. The name Shum may just be a happy coincidence, and that’s all. But let’s delve a bit deeper into this hypothesis and see where we get.
According to Enoch’s vision, the people of Shum live in a valley, dwelling in tents; and it appears like the people of Canaan, who also dwell in tents, come from the north with the purpose of war (see Moses 7:4-8). The people of Canaan prevail against those at Shum, until they are “utterly destroyed”. Then the people of Canaan “divide themselves in the land”, and the the land becomes “barren and unfruitful”, and “cursed with much heat … forever”. And this apparently prevents any other people from dwelling there except for the people of Canaan. And there Enoch’s vision of Shum ends.
Are there any indicators that the people of Shum may have lived at Shum Laka? Let’s see. Now, just so you know, my sources on Shum Laka are super scanty. There are papers out there that I have no access to, and a few snippets on various websites; but here’s what I’ve been able to glean so far:
- Shum Laka is situated in the Laka Valley. The people of Shum lived in the valley of Shum.
- Shum Laka was inhabited by hunter-gathers, who may have lived in tents. The people of Shum dwelt in tents. (7)
- They’ve found axes and blades at Shum Laka. The people of Canaan went down in battle array against Shum, and axes and blades of some sort may have been used. (8)
- Shum Laka is important during the era that gave rise to “Iron Age metallurgy” in Africa. Moses 5:46 tells us that some of the descendants of Cain work in iron and brass (assuming the people of Canaan are Cain’s family and brought this technology with them). (9)
- Between 5,000 and 2,500 years ago an “original culture” developed at Shum Laka. The conquest won by the Canaans would have introduced a new culture to those at Shum who survived, as they divided themselves in the land, taking their culture with them. (10)
- Shum Laka is considered the “probable cradle” of the Bantu languages, before they spread throughout Africa around 4,000 years ago. After destroying Shum, the Canaans divided themselves in the land, presumably mixing with other populations and spreading their language with them. (11)
- 8,000 and 3,000 year-old DNA samples from 4 individuals buried at Shum Laka show they are not closely related to modern Bantu speakers in Africa although it has long been believed the Bantu language spread throughout Africa from near Shum Laka. If the people of Canaan took over at Shum Laka and then divided themselves in the land, it’s possible their DNA altered the genomes of the populations around them; thus the humans found at Shum Laka in those time periods may not reflect this since they may have predated the Canaan arrival. (12)
- Neanderthal DNA has recently been found in African populations across Africa for the first time, indicating back-migrations of modern humans from Eurasia into Africa. Simulations suggest that migrations taking place over the past 20,000 years could explain the levels of Neanderthal DNA they’re finding in Africans. The people of Canaan may have had Neanderthal ancestry and thus may have introduced it into Africa after their conquest of Shum. (13)
Interestingly, I did find one article on the internet whose author proposed the Sahara desert as the cursed place where the people of Canaan went to live after destroying those at Shum. But as far as I know, no one else had suggested a connection between the people of Shum and Shum Laka in Cameroon… and probably for good reason too–but I, as a dilettante blogger, don’t know any better. From the standpoint of the Shum Laka hypothesis, the Sahara idea is super intriguing because Cameroon partially borders the South of the Sahara, and the Sahara itself was not the desert we know today until just a few thousand years ago. The timing of a good land being scorched with much heat and barrenness around 8,000 to 4,500 years ago may be just right on the money. (14)
HOW TO TEST HYPOTHESIS
Of course, this blog post is rife with speculation on my part, but I think that’s okay. It’s alright to try to piece things together and brainstorm possibilities. This is just a hypothesis. Some things or questions that might help support this hypothesis could be:
Is there any evidence of warfare at Shum Laka, especially during a certain time period? Is there any sign that the people of Shum Laka were overtaken by foreigners? Do the 4 children found at Shum Laka exhibit any Neanderthal DNA? Do the Bantu speakers thought to originate near Shum Laka have any Neanderthal in their genomes? What is the origin of the name Shum Laka? What does it mean? Did this name exist before Joseph Smith received Moses 7? When was Shum Laka discovered? Did the people at Shum Laka ever live in tents? Could the Neanderthal DNA found in Africans have arrived after the supposed time of the Flood (c. 2500 BC)? Do the Bantu languages resemble any other non-African languages? Just when did the Sahara turn from lush to desert? Why did it transform? Were there any people living in what is now the Sahara before it changed? Did the people at Shum Laka use iron or brass? When and why did the spelling of Cainan to Canaan occur in Moses 7?… SO MANY QUESTIONS! I’ll be keeping a lookout for any more information that comes forward.
I know this blog post has gone on for long enough, so let me just sum things up a bit: The story of the people of Shum and the people of Canaan in the Book of Moses only adds confusion, doubt, and sheer complication to the idea of a global Flood. I gave six main reasons why it did this. Who were these people? Why are they important to Enoch’s story and the history of “the world for the space of many generations” (Moses 7:4)? Is their story, perhaps, given as evidence that Noah’s Flood was a local one?
And then I threw out the possibility that the people of Shum lived in or near Shum Laka in Cameroon. Again, it’s a loose possibility, but the similarities are interesting. If it was them, then it adds a whole bunch of implications for Noah’s Flood and other aspects of world history as seen through the traditional LDS lens. And it makes me wonder if Joseph Smith was (whether cognizantly or not) giving us inspired scripture in what is now the Pearl of Great Price that hinted or contained clues as to the geographic extent of Noah’s Flood.
If you have any more info about Shum, Shum Laka, Neanderthals, or anything else, please let me know in the comments. I’m ever curious to know what you think about all this.
For more on Noah’s Flood, GO HERE.
SOURCES AND NOTES
- For more on who the Canaanites, see https://www.pearlofgreatpricecentral.org/the-blood-of-the-canaanites/
- This website has some more info on the Cainan/Canaan spelling discrepancy, https://www.bookofmormonpromisedland.com/AMERICAN%20NOAH.htm.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shum_Laka; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genesis_flood_narrative
- https://www.coolaboo.com/world-history/ancient-africa/ancient-african-housing/; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_early_and_simple_domes
- https://phys.org/news/2020-01-modern-africans-europeans-neanderthal-ancestry.html; https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(20)30059-3
- https://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/lds/meridian/2001/act_of_god.html; https://latterdaysaintmag.com/2001/01/; https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-really-turned-sahara-desert-green-oasis-wasteland-180962668/; https://www.iflscience.com/environment/nasa-image-reveals-remnant-of-vast-ancient-lake-in-the-sahara/