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, Jr.'s translation of the Bible, Genesis 5 (currently published by the Community of Christ), and as an excerpt in the Pearl of Great Price, Book of Moses 5, 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 Joseph 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 Joseph Smith's era. Apologists, however, generally argue that references to Master Mahan were restored by Joseph 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, Jr. 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. A Mormon apologist 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 (, p. 72)
- Whelan (1964, p. 197)
- Tanner & Tanner (1969, pp. 156–157).
- Homer (, p. 91)
- Quinn (1998, p. 147–148, 208–210)
- Arbaugh, George Bartholomew (1832), Revelation in Mormonism: Its Character and Changing Forms, Chicago: U. of Chicago Press.
- 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: The History, Scripture, Doctrine, and Procedure of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1, New York: MacMillan, ISBN 0-02-904040-X.
- 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.
- Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, ed. (1944), The Holy Scriptures: Inspired Version, Containing the Old and New Testaments: An Inspired Revision of the Authorized Version by Joseph Smith, Jr., Independence, Missouri: RLDS Church
(see Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible).
- Tanner, Jerald; Tanner, Sandra (1969), The Mormon Kingdom, Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry.
- "Pearl of Great Price": The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. (1982), The Pearl of Great Price: a Selection from the Revelations, Translations, and Narrations of Joseph Smith, First Prophet Seer, and Revelator to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
(see Pearl of Great Price).
- Whelan, William J. (1964), The Latter-day Saints in the Modern World: An Assessment of Contemporary Mormonism, New York: John Day.