Evidence #396 | March 13, 2023

Enos and the Jacob-Esau Cycle

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Scripture Central


The book of Enos contains many echoes and allusions to the stories of Jacob and Esau found in Genesis. These textual parallels, several of which seem informed by knowledge of Hebrew, are hard to ascribe to Joseph Smith.

As noted by several scholars, the book of Enos contains a significant number of echoes and allusions to the stories of Jacob and Esau found in Genesis, sometimes regarded as the Jacob-Esau cycle.1 Many of these parallels are addressed in the short sections that follow. This evidence summary is primarily a synthesis of the sources listed in the further reading. Those interested in the full weight of this nuanced argument should consult those more detailed and expansive studies.

Enos = Man

Enos opens his account by stating, “Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man” (Enos 1:1). Matthew Bowen has convincingly argued that use of the term man in this passage is playing off the meaning of the Hebrew name Enos (ʾĕnôš), which itself means “man.”2 One strong line of evidence supporting this association comes from the way that Enos’s self-introduction is patterned after a similar wordplay found in Nephi’s introduction in 1 Nephi 1:1.3

Jacob and Esau. Image via jw.org. 

Yet the concept of “man” also plays a key role in several passages in the Jacob-Esau cycle, including the divine “man” which Jacob wrestled and overcame at Peniel (Genesis 32:24, 30),4 as well as the opposite types of “man” that Jacob and Esau represented (Genesis 25:27; 27:11).5 These ideas are all relevant to Enos’s personal development throughout his account. As put forward by Bowen, “Enos’s writings begin with him as an Esau-like ‘man’ wrestling a Jacob-like ‘wrestle’ before God.”6 Yet, by the end of his story, he transformed into a just and holy man, much like his righteous forebearers, and was therefore prepared to enter into the presence of God (Enos 1:26–27).7 As the Lord told Enos, “thy faith hath made thee whole” (v. 8).8


Enos is the only individual in the Book of Mormon whose personal hunting endeavors are mentioned: “Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests” (Enos 1:3). This self-description, given before Enos’s transformative encounter with the Lord, mirrors one of Esau’s defining attributes: “And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field” (Genesis 25:27). It also correlates with Enos’s description of the Lamanites who, like Esau, were stereotypical wild men: “they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; … and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat” (Enos 1:20).9

Enos hunting. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Thus, at the outset of his story, Enos casts himself as a sort of “natural man” (Mosiah 3:19)—a hunter figure who is wandering in the wilderness and estranged from God, much like Esau and the Lamanites. By establishing himself in this way, Enos succinctly sets up the need for his personal repentance and change, while also connecting his personal drama with the Jacob-Esau cycle that is so integral to the rest of his account.

“My Soul Hungered”

Enos’s statement that his “soul hungered” (Enos 1:4) echoes the deep yearning and hunger that Esau felt in Genesis 25:29–30: “Esau came from the field, and he was faint: And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee.” Esau was so hungry, in fact, that he sold his birthright to Jacob for a meager mess of pottage (vv. 31–34). While apparently no less intense, Enos’s spiritual hunger provides powerful contrastive imagery, which helps explain his personal spiritual transformation.10

Esau sells his birthright for a mess of pottage. Image via jw.org. 

That Enos’s “soul” hungered (Enos 1:4) may also be significant. In the same passage, Enos said that he “cried unto [the Lord] in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul.” When speaking of the Nephites a few verses later, he stated, “I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them” (v. 9). And then, after obtaining his blessing from the Lord, Enos finally noted that his “soul did rest” (v. 17). This repeated emphasis on his “soul” hungering for a blessing from the Lord echoes the hunger and soul-related blessing that Isaac planned to give to Esau, but which was ultimately bestowed upon Jacob (Genesis 27:4, 19, 25, 31).11

“Make,” “Done,” “Labor,” and “Wrought”

After describing his intense hunger, Enos said “I kneeled down before my Maker” (Enos 1:4). The designation “Maker” may correlate with the repeated use of the word done in the verses that follow: “Lord, how is it done?” (v. 7); “it shall be done unto them according to their faith” (v. 8). A similar idea is invoked Enos’s use of the word labor: “after I had prayed and labored with all diligence” (v. 12); “But our labors were vain” (v. 20). Finally, near the conclusion of his narrative, Enos says that he was “wrought upon by the power of God” (v. 26). 

While the etymology for the name Esau is ultimately uncertain, several lines of evidence suggest that it can be connected to “labor” and with that which is “made,” “done,” or “wrought.”12 Thus, as noted by Bowen, on several occasions, “Enos … appears to use verbal echoes of the name Esau.”13


Enos declared, “And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God” (Enos 1:2). A form of the word wrestle is used only one other time in the Book of Mormon.14 Interestingly, the only two uses of the Hebrew word translated as “wrestled” in the King James Bible are found back-to-back in the account of Jacob’s struggle with a divine man: “there wrestled [yēʾābēq] a man with him until the breaking of the day … and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled [bĕhēʾābĕqô] with him” (Genesis 32:24–25).15 Each record’s use of such a rare term in such a similar context strengthens the case for intentional allusion.

Enos by Lester Yocum. 

A different but related interaction is present in the account of Jacob receiving his blessing from Isaac. In order to establish the identity of his son, Isaac felt Jacob’s hands, kissed him, and smelled his raiment—each of which involved a type of close physical encounter. After passing this series of tests, Jacob received a blessing from his father, just as he later received a blessing after his wrestle with the divine man at Peniel (Genesis 27:19–29). Another layer of resemblance can be seen in the way that Jacob and Esau reunited after their estrangement: “Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept (Genesis 33:4).16 Hugh Nibley has proposed that “the word conventionally translated as ‘wrestled (yēʾāvēq)’ can just as well mean ‘embraced.’”17

In addition to the “wrestle” overtly mentioned at the beginning of Enos’s account (Enos 1:2), resolution of his story also implies a type of divine embrace:

And I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; for I know that in him I shall rest. And I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father. (Enos 1:27)

According to Bowen, the imagery of the Redeemer escorting Enos into the eternal realms is reminiscent of the reconciliatory embrace shared by Jacob and Esau, as well as the embrace between Jacob and the divine being at Peniel.18 Furthermore, Enos’s divine encounter at the entrance to heaven would presumably include a test to affirm his spiritual identity and worthiness—somewhat like Isaac’s testing of Jacob—followed by the blessing of eternal life.


As soon as the narrative shifts away from Enos’s personal wrestle with the Lord and towards his concern about the broader Nephite and Lamanite societies, forms of the word “struggle” begin to be used instead of “wrestle” (Enos 1:10, 11, 14). This is noteworthy because the only use of the English word “struggle” in the entire Old Testament (KJV) pertains to the prenatal conflict between Jacob and Esau: “And the children struggled together within her … And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb” (Genesis 25:22–23).19

An Isolated Setting

Enos’s report that he “went to hunt beasts in the forests” implies that his wrestle with the Lord transpired away from human habitation, in a setting where he could ponder and pray uninterrupted (Enos 1:3). A similar theme of isolation is present in Jacob’s struggle at Peniel. In Genesis 32:18–21, Jacob sent out companies of servants across a stream, instructing them to give gifts to his brother Esau as a way to appease his anger. Jacob then sent his wives, servants, and sons over the ford, so that he was “left alone” on the opposite bank (vv. 22–24). Whatever the specific intent of this arrangement was, it resulted in Jacob being on his own when he wrestled with a divine being throughout the night.

Day and Night

A memorable aspect of Enos’s prayerful wrestle with the Lord was its exceptional duration. Enos reported, “all the day long did I cry unto [the Lord]; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens” (Enos 1:4). In an inversion of this sequence, the account in Genesis indicates that Jacob’s wrestle occurred throughout the night and into the morning: “And he rose up that night … and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. (Genes 32:22–24).

Prayers for Reconciliation

“I prayed unto [the Lord] with many long strugglings for my brethren, the Lamanites,” wrote Enos, after he had prayed for himself and for the Nephites (Enos 1:11). “In similar fashion,” explain John Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, “Jacob may have been praying for his brother Esau during his wrestle with the angel.”20 After all, note the authors,

The Nephites and Lamanites for whom Enos prayed were very much like Jacob and Esau. Nephi, like Jacob, had to flee with his family because his elder brothers Laman and Lemuel sought to kill him (2 Nephi 5:1–7). Nephi’s people were settled and industrious, constructing a temple and other buildings (2 Nephi 5:15–17), while the Lamanites became “an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey” (2 Nephi 5:24).21


Bowen writes,

We should further note Enos’s possible allusion to and adaptation of the Genesis narrator’s description of Esau’s “cry[ing] [wayyiṣʿaq] with a great and exceeding bitter cry [ṣĕʿāqâ],” which plays on, or alludes to, the name Isaac (yiṣḥāq). Esau’s “cry” evokes the opposite emotion suggested in the meaning of Isaac’s name “may he laugh” or “may he rejoice” (Genesis 18:12–15; 21:6–9; 26:8). Enos makes a twofold reference to “crying” for his own soul: “I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him” (Enos 1:4).22

Preservation and Record Keeping

Enos mentioned that, if possible, the Lamanites intended to “destroy our records and us, and also all the traditions of our fathers” (Enos 1:14). To counteract this possibility, Enos cried “unto God that he would preserve the records” (v. 16). The theme of preservation likewise crops up in Jacob’s struggle at Peniel. After wresting with the divine man, Jacob declared, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:30).

Another intriguing correspondence can be seen in the discussion of Jacob’s records as found in several extrabiblical sources. The book of Jasher mentions that Jacob recorded his purchase of the birthright from Esau, that he placed this record alongside other sacred or revealed texts, and that he took care to preserve them by sealing them up to be used at a future day. Later, when a dispute arose between Jacob’s and Esau’s families (analogous to the dispute between the Nephites and Lamanites over their own history), these records were turned to as a way to resolve the disagreement.23

Obtaining a Blessing

Early in his account, Enos pronounced a blessing upon the Lord: “and blessed be the name of my God for it” (Enos 1:1). He concluded by anticipating the Lord pronouncing a blessing upon him: “then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed” (v. 27). And at a key moment of personal transformation, Enos was told, “thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed” (v. 5). Seeking and obtaining a blessing is also the central theme of Jacob’s struggle with Esau (Genesis 27), as well as Jacob’s struggle with the divine being at Peniel (Genesis 32:26, 29).24


Enos declared, “I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer” (Enos 1:4).25 According to Bowen, “The denominative verb ‘kneel’ (brk, which is probably related or derived from the verb bārak, ‘bless’) recalls both the blessing and the birthright from the Jacob-Esau story.”26 Yet this passage is also likely alluding to Psalm 95:6: “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.” Bowen explains, “The literary genius of Enos’s incorporation of Psalm 95:6 … is his making the phrase ‘before the Lord our Maker’ a reference to Isaac’s promise in Genesis 27:7 and Jacob’s experience at Peniel.”27

Isaac blesses Jacob as he kneels before him. Attribution unknown. 

Before God / Seeing God’s Face with Pleasure

“I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God,” wrote Enos (Enos 1:2). He also stated, “I kneeled down before my Maker” (Enos 1:4). Enos’s use of “before” in these passages may be significant. Tvedtnes and Roper explain, “In Hebrew, the words before God would be liphney ’el, literally ‘to the face of God’.”28

In connection with this verbiage, an emphasis on seeing God (including seeing his face) is also overtly present in Enos’s account. After his successful wrestle, the Lord told him that his sins were forgive because of his “faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen” (Enos 1:8). And shortly before he died, Enos declared, “And I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure” (Enos 1:27).29

Enos’s language in these verses has parallels with several details in the Jacob-Esau cycle. The idea of being “before the Lord” is present in Isaac’s words before his death: “Bring me venison, and make me savoury meat, that I may eat, and bless thee before the Lord before my death” (Genesis 27:7). More poignantly, they parallel Jacob’s wrestle with the divine being, for immediately afterward he “called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:30).

As noted by Bowen,

There seems to be a further pun envisaged by the use of the verb rā’â, to “see” in Genesis 32:20, and the giving of Jacob’s new name “Israel” (Yiśrāʾēl) in connection with the verb rā’â, to “see” in Genesis 32:28–30 …. The force of this implied or hidden non-etymological pun seems to be *ʾîš rā’âʾēl: A “man” (ʾîš) has “seen” (rā’â) “God” (ʾēl[ōhîm]), and his “life is preserved.” Jacob’s “wrestle”—or the “wrestle” of the divine ʾîš with him—is the pivotal, transformative event in the story of Jacob’s life.30

Likewise, Enos’s wrestle and his anticipation of seeing God’s face are pivotal to his own account.

One final related connection is worth noting in this section. Enos anticipated that he would “see [God’s] face with pleasure” (Enos 1:27). As pointed out by Tvedtnes and Roper,

This passage is … reminiscent of Jacob’s reunion and reconciliation with his brother Esau the day after his nightlong wrestle. Jacob said to his brother, “I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me” (Genesis 33:10).31


When viewed collectively, a strong case can be made for the intentionality of these many parallels. While not every proposal is of the same strength, there are enough compelling examples that the less certain ones are made more plausible when viewed in context.

For instance, it is hard not to see Enos’s “wrestle” as being a mirror of Jacob’s “wrestle. Both events were (1) carried out in isolation, (2) involved a notable day/night duration, (3) were with a divine being, (4) were followed by the receipt of a sought-for blessing, (5) resulted in a pivotal personal transformation of character, and (6) were associated with seeing the face of the Lord. A similar set of relationships link Enos with Esau. Both individuals (1) had names associated with “man,” (2) are featured in stories in which their hunting plays an important role, (3) had a deep hunger or yearning for something, and (4) ended up finding reconciliation as they saw the face of him with whom they had been estranged.

The numerous associated parallels swirling around these core convergences add a host of possibilities for intentional literary borrowing or allusion. As concluded by Bowen,

Enos’s skillful adaptation and reworking of numerous details from the Jacob-Esau cycle to tell the story of his own divine “wrestle,” experiences with Christ’s atonement, subsequent spiritual “struggles,” and final sanctification through the Christ’s atonement makes his autobiography a short masterpiece. They further reveal Enos to have been a diligent reader of the scriptures and a faithful “man” who became a prophet of God worthy of the legacy of his father Jacob and his patriarchal ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.32

On the other hand, it is difficult to ascribe this short “masterpiece,” as Bowen calls it, to the creative faculties of Joseph Smith. At the time he dictated the Book of Mormon in 1829, Joseph had a limited education, no known literary experience, and no Hebrew training, making him a poor candidate indeed.33

Matthew L. Bowen, “‘I Kneeled Down Before My Maker’: Allusions to Esau in the Book of Enos,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 27 (2017): 29–56.

Matthew Bowen, “‘And There Wrestled a Man with Him’ (Genesis 32:24): Enos’s Adaptations of the Onomastic Wordplay of Genesis,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 10 (2014): 151–160.

Matthew L. Bowen, “Wordplay on the Name ‘Enos’,” Insights: A Window on the Ancient World 26, no. 3 (2006): 2.

John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, “Jacob and Enos: Wrestling before God,” Insights: A Window on the Ancient World  21, no. 5 (2001): 2–3.

Intertextuality (External)
Enos and the Jacob-Esau Cycle
Book of Mormon

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