The Lord Called His People Zion
Come Follow Me Lesson: January 24–30. Moses 7: “The Lord Called His People Zion”
by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD
The Come Follow Me lesson states, “Throughout history, people have tried to achieve what Enoch and his people accomplished: building an ideal society where there is no poverty or violence. As God’s people, we share this desire. We call it building Zion, and it includes—in addition to caring for the poor and promoting peace—making covenants, dwelling together in righteousness, and becoming one with each other and with Jesus Christ, ‘the King of Zion’” (Moses 7:53). The lesson then asks the question: “How did Enoch and his people do it? How did they become ‘of one heart and one mind’ (Moses 7:18) despite the wickedness around them?”
I believe that the lesson, as usual, does an excellent job of addressing this question and I highly recommend following its suggestions. I believe in a literal Adam and Eve, who lived on the earth roughly 6000 years ago, and a literal Enoch, who built the City of Zion some 5100 years ago, but I do not believe that their stories are entirely along the lines that tradition has portrayed. It is the purpose of my website, in part, to discuss the scientific background behind the history addressed in the current lesson. I have chosen to address three questions where science may be able to add some insight into Enoch’s background and the conditions in which he lived: 1. How do we address his unusual age (three hundred and sixty-five years), as stated in Genesis 5:23 and Moses 7:68? 2. How many people were on the earth or nearby Enoch when he and the City of Zion were taken up into heaven (Moses 7:69)? 3. What were the social conditions around Enoch when his people were converted (Moses 7:18-19)?
First, how do we address Enoch’s unusual age (three hundred and sixty-five years), as stated in Genesis 5:23 and Moses 7:68? The same question may be asked about all of the antediluvian patriarchs. Much of what I present here is from chapter 16 of my book, The Infinite Fall, A Scientific Approach to the Second Pillar of Eternity (Cedar Fort Inc., 2021). Genesis chapter 5 gives a genealogy, not of all of Adam’s children, but only one of the male descendants of Seth in each generation, down to Noah. This genealogy may only be the Priesthood line of authority for Adam’s family (c.f. Moses 6:7) and/or simply Noah’s paternal genealogy back to Adam. Clearly, there were many other people around, including other of Adam’s descendants, not included in this genealogy (c.f. Moses 5:2-4).
There are no archeological data, of which I am aware, suggesting any time in the history of the world when the general population lived to extremely old ages. Indeed, as far as we know, from the available data, we currently have the longest life expectancies of any people who have ever lived on earth. None-the-less, according to both the Bible and the Pearl of Great Price, for nine generations, from Adam to Noah, the patriarchs lived to very old ages. Methuselah, held the record at 969 years.1 No mention is made of how long the women or any other people lived. Indeed, the fact that their ages are listed so precisely suggests that their ages were anomalies, even among their peers.
There are several possible explanations for the ages presented, which are exactly the same in Genesis and Moses. One possibility is that age was calculated differently in those days. If this were the case, however, why would the scriptures put so much emphasis on the ages of nine men? Another possibility is that these are in some way “heroic” ages, much in the same way that Celtic heroes were all literally bigger than life – larger than other humans of their time. Third, maybe they continued on some sort of high-level antioxidant diet – although not as good as that provided by the Tree of Life. A fourth possibility is that those nine men inherited some aspect of Adam’s longevity – perhaps some heritable lingering effect of the tree of life. Perhaps they inherited extra-long telomeres or more active, or a greater number of telomerases.
Telomeres (from the Greek telos, meaning “end,” and mero, meaning “part”) are protective end-caps on DNA molecules that help protect the DNA from replication damage. Telomeres are long, repeated sequences of the nucleotides TTAGGG, which may be repeated up to 2,500 times in newborn human cells.2 Telomeres are somewhat like the plastic tips on shoelaces, because they keep the ends of DNA double strands from fraying and sticking to each other. Telomeres were first discovered in the mid-1970s by Elizabeth Blackburn, a postdoctoral fellow in Joseph Gall’s laboratory at Yale University.3 For her discovery, she shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine with Carol Geider and Jack Szostak in 2009.
Now that we have discovered telomeres, the question is no longer so much why did the antediluvian patriarchs live so long, but rather, why doesn’t everyone live so long. In a perfect world, our telomeres should keep our cells immortal. However, each time a cell divides, the telomeres become shorter – because of that tiny gap needed for RNA transcription to end. Once the telomeres are gone, the main part of the DNA — the part with genes essential for life, starts being lost or tangled, resulting in loss of gene function. When this happens, the DNA cannot replicate completely, the ends fray, and the cell can no longer divide. That cell becomes inactive and “senescent” (old) or it dies. The telomere shortening process is associated with aging, impaired tissue repair, cancer formation, and an increased risk of death. As a result, telomeres also have been compared to the fuse on an explosive.
Greater overall telomere loss in an individual correlates with a shorter life expectancy. Genetic variations in the proteins involved in maintaining telomeres can either raise or lower the risk and progression of certain types of cancer. Non-genetic factors, such as environmental toxins, also can affect telomere maintenance. However, telomere loss is not inevitable. Telomere replacement is facilitated by an enzyme called telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT), which adds bases to the ends of telomeres.4 In young cells, TERT is active and helps maintain telomere length. As cells divide repeatedly, however, the synthesis of TERT does not keep pace, so there is reduced telomere repair, the telomeres grow shorter, and the cells age. One key to immortality, or at least very long life, then, is to find a way to maintain TERT synthesis at high levels. TERT synthesis is very high in sperm and egg cells, which passes high TERT activity to the next generation. If reproductive cells did not have TERT to maintain the length of their telomeres, the species would soon become extinct.
Richard Cawthon and colleagues at the University of Utah proposed that there are four possible components to aging: telomere shortening, chronological age, oxidative stress, and glycation (binding of glucose – sugar – to DNA, proteins, and lipids). Cawthon and his team proposed that if we could eliminate the majority of the aging processes – such as telomere shortening and glycation, and figure out how to repair oxidative damage, humans could live to be as much as 1,000 years old – older than Methuselah.5
The Second question I have posed is: How many people were on the earth or nearby Enoch when he and the City of Zion were taken up into heaven (Moses 7:69)? One Biblical Timeline suggests that Enoch lived on earth from about 3384 BC to 3019 BC.6 This date is based on the same calculations as the date for the first day of creation, October 23, 4004 BC, as determined by James Ussher, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate over all of Ireland between 1625 and 1656. Therefore, the time between Adam and Enoch was some 600 to 1000 years. So what was the earth’s population around 4000 to 3000 BC? Much of what I present here is from chapter 17 of my book, The Infinite Fall, A Scientific Approach to the Second Pillar of Eternity (Cedar Fort Inc., 2021) and from my book with Jeff Meldrum, Who Are the Children of Lehi: DNA and the Book of Mormon.7
It is my opinion, backed by an enormous amount of scientific data, that when Adam and Eve stepped out of their isolation in the Garden of Eden into the Lone and Dreary World, a mere six thousand years ago, they did not step into an empty world. I believe the word “lone” means that they were without their previous association with God, not that they were alone in the world. Today, we can feel that same sense of loneliness, even on a crowded city street, if we separate ourselves from God’s presence through our transgressions.
The account of Adam’s family in Genesis and Moses suggests that Adam, Eve, and their children were the only human beings on Earth six thousand years ago. However, numerous calculations indicate that the total population of the earth was about five million people around 10,000 years ago and fifty million by 4800 years ago, with a growth rate of about 0.01%/year.8 How do we account for the discrepancy between the tradition that Adam and Eve were alone in the world and the vast data set indicating that they were not? One answer is that, although there were over fifty million people on Earth, Adam and his family were isolated from the rest of humanity. An alternative answer is that Adam and his family were not alone. There are a number of hints in the scriptures that the latter might be the case.
It may be reasonable first to ask: Who was the “every one” referred to by Cain when he said that his punishment was greater than he could bear? If this story is about one family – the children of Adam and Eve, who would know Cain, why should he be given a distinguishing mark? According to the Genesis account, the only “others” on earth at the time would be his brothers and sisters, and maybe (from the account in Moses) nephews and nieces. Wouldn’t his brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews already know him? And why would Cain be a “fugitive and vagabond” when the entire Earth was open to one small family – weren’t they all “fugitives and vagabonds”? The next verse suggests that although Adam and Eve were only hearing God’s voice from the Garden of Eden,9 in some way, the family was still in His presence.
“And Cain was shut out from the presence of the Lord, and with his wife and many of his brethren dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bare Enoch, and he also begat many sons and daughters. And he builded a city, and he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch.”10
This scripture, to me, is one of the most compelling that Adam’s family was not living in isolation. The “land of Nod” must have been significant at some point in the retelling of the story but it has little or no meaning today. Nod is a Hebrew root word (נוד) comprising the verb (לנדוד) meaning “to wander.”11 Therefore, to dwell in Nod simply means that Cain and his family wandered, they were in the “land of wandering.” And then Cain built a city. The original Hebrew word (קִרְיָה) means “town” or “city.” With his wandering family, only a tiny population on the entire face of the earth, why wouldn’t Cain have built a village or hamlet? Doesn’t it take quite a few people to found a city, or even a town? This information: Cain’s fear that someone might kill him, the mark so that people seeing him wouldn’t kill him, and his founding a city with his wife and son; all suggest that Adam’s family was embedded into a society of people already extant when Adam and Eve left the Garden and not descended only from Adam and Eve – and likely of a sizable number.
In 2007, Jeff Meldrum and I published the book Who Are the Children of Lehi: DNA and the Book of Mormon.12 In writing that book, we calculated population growth in prehistoric societies (p. 96). We estimated that at a growth rate of 0.7 percent (that’s the growth rate for the United States today, which most experts agree is phenomenal), population doubling times would be approximately 100 years. However, it is estimated that population doubling rates were closer to around 1600 years during most prehistoric and even early historic times.
If Adam and Eve stepped out of Eden around 4000 BC and Enoch lived around 3100 BC, then there were around 900 years from Adam to Enoch, this would mean nine rounds of doubling before Enoch, given a 100-year doubling time. If we start with only Adam and Eve around 4000 BC, then 100 years later, there would only be 4 people. This is a rather preposterous assumption no matter who is doing the calculations. Calculations of population growth only work when examining populations with some initial population size. So let’s assume that Eve gave birth to 100 children almost immediately upon leaving the Garden (which is also a rather preposterous idea). With a population size of 100 to begin with, that population would have been around 200 one hundred years later, 400 after two hundred years, and around 51,000 nine hundred years later, at the time of Enoch. Remember, this number is reached only if we assume that population growth at that time was equal to the unprecedented rate of today’s population growth and that Eve was having children at an astounding rate. If we consider a more realistic rate at the time of a 1600-year doubling rate, than there would have been less than 200 people in 3100 BC.
If we consider the recent research by Alan Williams on growth rates in prehistoric Australia,13 even with the relatively rapid growth in Australia after 3000 BC, the doubling time was only once every 1000 years. Given that growth rate, starting with a population of 100 right after the Garden of Eden, the population at Enoch’s time would have been only 200. With the number of people in the whole world in 3100 BC being somewhere between 200 and 51,000 (with the first number being in line with actual growth rates at the time and the larger number being based on the unprecedented growth rates today, and Eve having an unprecedented number of children in rapid succession), the numbers don’t work very well to talk about Enoch having established a city. These calculations make it clear that Adam’s family was by no means the only people living on earth 5000 or 6000 years ago.
The third question is: What were the social conditions around Enoch when his city was converted and taken into heaven? First, recall that the total population of the earth was about 5 million people around 10,000 years ago and 50 million by 4800 years ago, with a growth rate of about 0.01%/year.14 If there were only 200 to 51,000 people on earth by 3100 BC, as the population growth rates indicate, starting with a single nuclear family of 100 people, then where did all the people come from who built amazing monuments around the world by 3000 BC?
Nawarla Gabarnmung in Australia, first started around 48,000 to 50,000 years ago may be the oldest monument made by human hands in the world. Ochre art work on the rocks there dates back 30,000 ago.15 There were around 100,000 people in Australia by 3000 BC. The Australian Indigenous rock art paintings stand as the oldest unbroken art tradition in the world.
Around 40,000 years ago, the earliest image of a human hand in stencil was made at Maros karsts, Sulawesi, Indonesia. The art was made by the artist placing his or her hand against a cave wall and then blowing ochre onto the hand and surrounding wall, leaving a stencil on the cave wall. Such art also showed up around the same time in Australia and France. Some 35,000 years ago, our ancestors created gorgeous paintings on the walls of Chauvet cave in southern France. Those paintings can rival any art produced today, including the earliest animation: breaking down animal movement, prefiguring cinema by thousands of years.
A whole series of temples was constructed starting about 11,500 years ago at Göbekli Tepe (“potbelly hill”), Anatolia, Turkey. The largest temple featured T-shaped carved stone stelae up to 18 feet tall and many richly decorated with abstract anthropomorphic figures, clothing, and reliefs of wild animals. The area also featured the oldest permanent settlements. The oldest continuous settlements, including the walled city of Jericho, with a population of up to 3000 people, showed up about the same time to the southeast in the Levant (today’s Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Syria).
Some 7100 years ago, a mysterious cattle-cult (forerunner of Baal?) ritual landscape of over 1,000 large-scale mustatil (sandstone-wall enclosure monuments) appeared in northern Saudi Arabia: some were entranceways to courtyards, chambers, or orthostats (large stone blocks, many with relief carvings). A number of pre-Columbian mounds and ridges, starting with Watson Brake, appeared in the middle of the future United States around 5500 years ago. The “Mound Builder” culture continued in Middle America until a mere five hundred years ago.
Passage tombs began to appear in Brittany, France around 6700 years ago. About 4500 to 5000 years ago, some 300 people spent thirty years hauling 200,000 tons of rock up a hill overlooking the Boyne River valley to construct a massive passage tomb called Newgrange in what is now County Meath, Ireland.
Around 4650 years ago, the earliest pyramid, the step pyramid tomb of pharaoh Djoser in Saqqara, was built in Egypt. One hundred years later, the Great Pyramid of Giza was constructed. Egyptian pyramid construction required some 20,000 – 30,000 actual laborers, not to mention all the support people. There was an estimated total population of one to two million people in Egypt at the time. When Jacob’s (Israel’s) family arrived in Egypt, the great pyramid of Gaza was already around seven hundred years old.
The list of phenomenal monuments built by humans around the world could go on, but the list I’ve given should be sufficient to convince you that, contrary to tradition, not scripture, there were a lot of people on the earth 5000 to 6000 years ago. I have discussed in other essays the issue of Adam being the “first man” and the idea that the fall was an infinite event – dating back to the Grand Council before the foundation of the earth. I believe that Adam and Eve were real people who lived some 6000 years ago. I believe in an actual Fall. But I also believe that there were millions of people who had lived and died before Adam and Eve were placed into the Garden to represent all of humankind in the Fall.
But how do we know that these very old dates for the monuments I’ve listed are accurate? Perhaps the passage of time has changed throughout history. On 16 December 1954, Dr. Henry Eyring, an internationally renowned chemist, active member of the Church, and father of President Henry B. Eyring, wrote a “short note” to the then Apostle Adam S. Bennion in answer to a question Elder Bennion had asked Dr. Eyring concerning the age of the earth. Eyring stated,
“Here I will briefly sketch a few of the more or less familiar lines of evidence on the age of the earth. The world is filled with radioactive clocks which can be read with varying accuracy but usually within ten percent or so and often considerably better. The principle involved is essentially simple. The heaviest elements such as uranium are unstable and fly apart sending out particles which can be counted in a Geiger Counter. From the number of counts one can tell how much of the radio-active substance one has. As the substance continues to decompose, the counts decrease, always remaining proportional to the number of particles not yet decomposed. Now the particles that are shot out are helium so that if the decomposing uranium is enclosed in a rock this helium will also be entrapped. Thus by determining how much helium is entrapped and how much uranium is present in the rocks one can tell exactly how long it has been since the rocks were laid down in their present form, since it always takes exactly the same amount of time for a given fraction of the uranium to decompose. There is another check on this. Each time a uranium atom decomposes it leaves a lead atom behind as well as ejecting the helium atom. Thus the ratio of these residual lead atoms to uranium is another wonderful clock. Four and one half billion years must elapse in order that half of the uranium present will be gone. Half of what remains will decompose in another four and a half billion years and so on. Thosium, another radioactive clock, has a half-life of fourteen billion years and there are a variety of other long time clocks as well as some short time ones like carbon fourteen with a half-life of five and one half thousand years. The radioactive clocks, together with the orderly way many sediments containing fossils are laid down, prove that the earth is billions of years old. In my judgement anyone who denies this orderly decomposition of sediments with their built in radioactive clocks places himself in a scientifically untenable position.”16
Since 1954 our ability to calculate the ratio of particles from radioactive decay has increased by orders of magnitude and, as a result, the accuracy of those clocks to which Dr. Eyring referred has also increased by an order of magnitude. I agree that anyone who doubts such measurements finds himself or herself in an untenable position. How does one pull his or her head out of the sand concerning the earth’s deep history? The answer is become educated. Take some chemistry and geology courses and find out for yourself the power of scientific investigation.
In considering the time of Adam, Eve and Enoch, we have three sources of information: revelation and the scriptures, science, and tradition. Whereas, in my opinion, revelation and science are powerful sources of true and correct information, tradition can be pernicious. We are warned many times in the Book of Mormon against false traditions. For example, in Alma 3:8, “And this was done that their seed might be distinguished from the seed of their brethren, that thereby the Lord God might preserve his people, that they might not mix and believe in incorrect traditions which would prove their destruction.”
The traditions that were built up around the story of Adam and Eve and their descendants, going all the way back to the early Hebrews, proved destructive to those people. Christ told them, “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”17
Today, the belief in traditions surrounding Adam and Eve and their family is largely responsible for the gulf that exists in many people’s minds between science and religion. Study science, ponder the scriptures, and throw off the pernicious, false traditions of our fathers which are hampering our intellectual and spiritual progress.
Trent Dee Stephens, PhD
1. Genesis 5:27
2. Okuda, K., Bardeguez, A., Gardner, J.P., Rodriguez, P., Ganesh, V., Kimura, M., Skurnick, J., Awad, G., and Aviv, A., Telomere length in the newborn, Pediatric Research, 52: 377–381, 2002
3. Blackburn, E.H., and Gall, J.G., A tandemly repeated sequence at the termini of the extrachromosomal ribosomal RNA genes in Tetrahymena, J. Mol. Biol., 120: 33–53, 1978
4. Cawthon, Richard, University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center, learn.genetic.utah.edu
6. amazingbibletimeline.com › blog › biblical-figure-enoch
7. Meldrum, D. Jeffrey and Trent D. Stephens, Greg Kofford Books, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2007
8. Timeline of the Human Condition, southampton.ac.uk/~cpd/history.html; see also Syvitski, J., Waters, C.N., Day, J. et al. Extraordinary human energy consumption and resultant geological impacts beginning around 1950 CE initiated the proposed Anthropocene Epoch. Commun Earth Environ 1, 32, 2020, doi.org/10.1038/s43247-020-00029-y
9. Moses 5:4
10. Moses 5:41-42
11. Asimov, Isaac, Asimov's guide to the Bible : the Old and New Testaments, Reprint in 2 vol. 1968 - 1969. ed., New York: Wings Books, 1981
12. Meldrum and Stephens, 2007
13. Williams, Alan N., A new population curve for prehistoric Australia, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2013
14. Timeline of the Human Condition
15. PBS, First Peoples, season 1 episode 4, 2015
16. Heath, Steven H., The Reconciliation of Faith and Science: Henry Eyring's Achievement, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 15, Autumn 1982; Letter: Henry Eyring to Adam S. Bennion, 16 Dec. 1954, in possession of Henry Eyring family; photocopy in Steven H. Heath, “Henry Eyring, Mormon Scientist,” M.A. thesis, University of Utah, 1980
17. Luke 3:8