In the religious texts of the Latter Day Saint movement, Master Mahan is a title assumed first by Cain and later by his descendant Lamech. The title indicates that Cain and Lamech were each the "master" of a "great secret" whereby they covenanted with Satan to kill for personal gain. The term is found in Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible, Genesis chapter 5 (currently published by the Community of Christ), and as an excerpt in the Pearl of Great Price, chapter 5 of the Book of Moses, a religious text of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).
Scholars approaching the issue from a secular perspective, who argue that Smith's translation of the Bible was influenced by his cultural environment including strong local anti-Masonry, generally suggest that the term is related to "Master Mason", the highest degree of the Blue Lodge of freemasonry. Another suggestion is that the term is related to "Mahoun", a pejorative reference to Muhammad during the Middle Ages which eventually became associated with witchcraft by Smith's era. Apologists, however, generally argue that references to "Master Mahan" were restored by Smith from missing parts of the Bible, and therefore the term has middle-Eastern roots. Consequently, the LDS Church's publications suggest that the term "Mahan" could mean either "mind", "destroyer", or "great one", and one prominent Mormon apologist speculates that the term is related to Arabic and Sanskrit words meaning "keeper of a great secret".
References in the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible
The reference to "Master Mahan" is found in a revision by Joseph Smith of Genesis chapter 5 of the Bible, now published in the Inspired Version of the Bible (I.V.), Genesis chapter 5, and in the Pearl of Great Price (PGP), Book of Moses chapter 5. The passage discussing the term begins after the ritual sacrifice by Cain and Abel, when God accepted Abel's sacrifice of a sheep, but not Cain's sacrifice of crops. According to this passage, the angry Cain made a secret pact with Satan, who asked Cain to:
- [s]wear unto me by thy throat, and if thou tell it thou shalt die; and swear thy bretheren by their heads, and by the living God, that they tell it not; for if they tell it, they shall surely die; and this that thy father may not know it; and this day I will deliver thy brother Abel into thine hands.
After entering this secret pact with Satan, Cain said, "Truly I am Mahan, the master of this great secret, that I may murder to get gain." Then, the passage comments, "Wherefore Cain was called Master Mahan; and he gloried in his wickedness." This arrangement was referred to as a "secret combination".
Later, the passage states that Cain's descendant Lamech had "slain a man to [his] wounding, and a young man to [his] hurt", and Lamech "entered into a covenant with Satan, after the manner of Cain, wherein he became Master Mahan, master of the great secret which was administered unto Cain by Satan." When a man named Irad, one of the sons of Enoch who knew about Lamech's secret pact, revealed that secret to others, the passage states that Lamech killed him to enforce the blood oath of secrecy.
Theories about the term's etymology
A footnote to Moses 5:31 in the LDS Church edition of the Pearl of Great Price states that "'Mind,' 'destroyer,' and 'great one' are possible meanings of the roots evident in 'Mahan'" but no further explanation is provided. In referring to this footnote, Matthew B. Brown, a Mormon apologist, has stated that he believes "Mahan" means "destroyer", because "the Hebrew word maha means 'destroy,' and the addition of an n would make the word a noun. Hence, maha(n) = destroy(er)."
Some commentators have suggested that "Master Mahan" is derived or related to "Master Mason", the highest degree of the Blue Lodge of freemasonry. Brown stated that "[a]nti-Mormon critics have long claimed that Master Mahan is a thinly veiled variation of Master Mason" and that they believe that "the presence of this title in LDS scripture clearly demonstrates that Joseph Smith plagiarized Masonic material for his creative ventures". D. Michael Quinn has suggested that this interpretation "ignor[es] textual and linguistic context" of the passage, and as an alternative favors the interpretation of the phrase's derivation from "Mahoun".
In popular culture
In the video game Assassin's Creed II, the player is required to find and decode "glyphs" in the game world that reveal more of the game's plot. Decoding a particular glyph in the game will begin a puzzle sequence in which Moses 5:31 is quoted.
- Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses 5:29-31, 49; Inspired Version, Genesis 5:14-16, 35.
- Arbaugh 1932, p. 72; Homer 1994, p. 91; Brown 1997, p. 147; Quinn 1997, p. 208; Whelan 1964, p. 197; Tanner & Tanner 1969, pp. 156–157.
- Brown 1997, p. 148; Quinn 1998, ch. 6.
- Book of Moses 5:31 footnote d; Brown 1997, p. 148.
- Hugh Nibley, Ancient Documents and the Pearl of Great Price, p. 12. Nibley suggests that the word "Master" is not the English word "master", but derives from Arabic word "Mustirr" ("keeper of secret") and "Mahan" is related to the Sanskrit word "maha" ("great").
- I.V. Genesis 5:6–7; PGP Moses 5:20–21.
- I.V. Genesis 5:15; PGP Moses 5:29.
- I.V. Genesis 5:16; PGP Moses 5:30.
- I.V. Genesis 5:37; PGP Moses 5:51.
- I.V. Genesis 5:35; PGP Moses 5:49.
- I.V. Genesis 5:36; PGP Moses 5:49–50.
- Moses 5:31, footnote d.
- Brown 1997, p. 147
- Arbaugh 1932, p. 72
- Whelan 1964, p. 197
- Tanner & Tanner 1969, pp. 156–157.
- Homer 1994, p. 91
- Quinn 1998, p. 147–148, 208–210
- Arbaugh, George Bartholomew (1932), Revelation in Mormonism: Its Character and Changing Forms, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, OCLC 3489776.
- Brown, Matthew B. (1997), "Girded about with a Lambskin", Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute) 6 (2): 124–151.
- Godfrey, Kenneth W. (1992), "Freemasonry in Nauvoo", in Ludlow, Daniel H, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing, pp. 527–528, ISBN 0-02-879602-0, OCLC 24502140.
- Homer, Michael W. (1994), "Similarity of Priesthood in Masonry: The Relationship between Freemasonry and Mormonism.", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 (3): 1–113.
- Quinn, D. Michael (1998), Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (2nd ed.), Salt Lake City: Signature Books, ISBN 1-56085-089-2.
- Tanner, Jerald and Sandra (1969), The Mormon Kingdom, Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry.
- Whalen, William J. (1964), The Latter-day Saints in the Modern World: An Account of Contemporary Mormonism, New York: John Day, OCLC 390576.