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A Strange Thing in the Land: The Return of the Book of Enoch, Part 10

TitleA Strange Thing in the Land: The Return of the Book of Enoch, Part 10
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1977
AuthorsNibley, Hugh W.
Issue Number3
Date PublishedMarch 1977
KeywordsBook of Enoch; Pearl of Great Price

This exciting and penetrating comparison of the Joseph Smith book of Enoch with four known variant manuscripts of that ancient work provides yet another evidence of the Prophet’s inspiration and the scope of his vision in the great work of the Restoration.


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A Strange Thing in the Land: The Return of the Book of Enoch, Part 10

By Hugh Nibley
Professor Emeritus of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University
This exciting and penetrating comparison of the Joseph Smith book of Enoch with four known variant manuscripts of that ancient work provides yet another evidence of the Prophet’s inspiration and the scope of his vision in the great work of the Restoration.
Being called, Enoch shrank back in fear and pleaded his unfitness, protesting among other things that he was “but a lad,” although sixty-five years old at the time! (Moses 6:31.) How is that strange anomaly to be explained? Joseph Smith could have known of none of the writings below which also deal with it. Where did he get the idea? Certainly not from apocryphal sources, although it appears not uncommonly in them. Just a few examples:
Gorion, Sagen der Juden, 1:294f: The Metatron has 70 names, but the King calls me “the Lad.” Why? 296. Because I act in the capacity of one who was before me, even Enoch, who was called “the Lad” 297. because he was the youngest of the hosts.
Migne, Dictionnaire des Apocryphes, 1:165. Enoch: “I heard my brothers say when I was small how wicked the world is; how then can I all alone achieve anything? If only my brothers were here I could ask them! Yet youthful though I am, I am still older than my brothers, though the last to come into this world. …”
Beit ha-Midrasch, 5:172: “… I am small [qatan, young] in the midst of them [The Watchers, of vast age, to whom he was sent], and am but a lad among them in days and months and years; in view of which they call me ‘Lad.’”
Jewish Encyclopedia, 8:519: “In the Hebrew writings and the Apocrypha” Enoch is represented as a young man, “since both sources represent him as a youth”—nobody knows why.
Zohar, Behalah 66b: “They saw the light of the Shekhinah, namely him who is called ‘the Youth’ [or Lad] Metatron-Enoch, who ministers to the Shekhinah in the heavenly sanctuary and the paved world of sapphir rock [Stone of Truth].” (See also Ex. 24:10.)
Migne, Dictionnaire des Apocryphes, 1:237: Enoch’s grandfather, being called on a mission in the same way, made the same objection. When Adam sent the heavenly messengers to him with a mission call, “Seth said: ‘O good teacher, for barely eight years [!] have I been in this world … I have not yet worn the male tiara [the round cloth cap of Ex. 28:40] nor borne the sword. Go back to Adam who is over 1,000 years old and tell him these things.’ But they said: ‘Seth, we have already told these same truths to your father Adam. He has been through all this.’” Then the winds bore Seth on high [as they later do Enoch], and he sat on the Throne of Light.
The patronizing title of “lad” reflected the general contempt in which Enoch was held—“All the people hate me,” he said, “for I am slow of speech.” (Moses 6:31.) The Ethiopian passage as rendered by Charles presents a peculiarly instructive parallel to the Joseph Smith version; both contain exactly the same ideas and expressions, but the African scribe has mixed them all up in an interesting way:
Moses 6:31. And when Enoch had heard these words, he bowed himself to the earth before the Lord
1 En. 15:24. And until then I had been prostrate on my face, trembling: and the Lord called me with his own mouth, and said to me: Come hither Enoch and hear my words. …
… and spake before the Lord saying: Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech. …
Moses 6:32. And the Lord said unto Enoch: Go forth, … open thy mouth, and it shall be filled. …
Moses 6:33. Say unto this people: Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you.
1 En. 103:9. Let the righteous not say: “… we have experienced every trouble, and met with much evil … and have become few and small [mikropsychos, insignificant]. … 10. and have not found any to help us even with a word [or, i.e., in speech]. … 11. Sinners have laid their yoke heavily upon us; 12. They have had dominion over us; they hated us and smote us, and to those who hated us we have bowed our necks. 104:2. God answered: Be hopeful … ye shall shine as the lights of heaven … 3. and in your cry, cry for judgment. … 9. Be not godless in your hearts.
Moses 6:32. And the Lord said unto Enoch: Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee.
Moses 6:34. Behold my Spirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will I justify … and thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me.
Book of Adam, xxi. And now, little Enoch, [“the Lad”] I have told you the mysteries of the wicked people of this world whose appearance has filled you with fear and distress … and that the wicked have conspired to do away with you—but in vain. [See also xlvii: All the wicked plotted against Enoch, but in vain.] But fear not. I will return to deliver you from evil and sin … and I shall lead thee from this dark world to the dwelling of light.
Moses 6:34. All thy words will I justify; and the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course.
The angel of life said to little Enoch, Arise, take thy way to the source of the waters, turn it aside from its course … at this command Tavril indeed turned the running water from its course. …
As to being slow of speech, God will put his very words into Enoch’s mouth, so that in a special way it will be the Lord speaking through him:

Moses 6:32. Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee. Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance … and I will do as seemeth me good.

Slavon. 13. I have been sent by the mouth of the Lord to you to tell you what will be. … And now my children, it is not out of my own mouth that I speak to you today, but by the mouth of the Lord who has sent me to you. For you hear the words of my mouth, and I have heard the words of the Lord.
Moses 6:30. And this is a decree which I have sent forth in the beginning … from my own mouth … and by the mouths of my servants, thy fathers, have I decreed it.
Secrets 29 (Charles, APOT, p. 454). I am sent forth to you today from the Lord’s mouth to speak to you. … not from my own mouth am I today informing you, but from the Lord’s mouth, for you have heard my words from my mouth, but I have heard the Lord’s words. …

Enoch was received by the public first with curiosity and surprise, then with resentment, then with fear, and finally with a measure of acceptance that was to produce a church and the city of Enoch. First we see Enoch, the mystery man, the alien, a great curiosity:

Moses 6:38. And they came forth to hear him, upon the high places, saying unto the tent-keepers: Tarry ye here … while we go yonder to behold the seer, for he prophesieth, and

Sefer ha-Yashar, BHM, 6:129. And all the people gathered together and went up to Enoch to hear this thing …

there is a strange thing in the land;

Slav. 16 (Vaillant, p. 60). And they all came together, saying: Come, let us greet Enoch, and they came to the place Azouchan.

a wild man hath come among us.

Eisler, Iesous Basileus, 2:19ff, 107. John the Baptist was received as Enoch returned to earth, preaching in the desert as a wild man.

Bk. of Adam, 17. There are false prophets who wander through the mountains and hills, wild men with wild hair and wild voices. They are called vagabond shepherds, live on herbs, and claim that God speaks mysteries by their mouths. 147. One of them, by the name of Marmon [!], led his followers to a place of filthy water.
Moses 6:40. And there came a man unto him, whose name was Mahijah, and said unto him: Tell us plainly who thou art, and from whence thou comest?

BHM, 4:131. And Enoch went out [after his long hiding] and there came a voice saying: Who is the man who rejoices in the ways of the Lord? [See Mahujah and Mahijah!] And all the people gathered together unto Enoch … and he taught them all again to keep the ways of the Lord, and gave them all his peace.

His answer:

Moses 6:41. And he said unto them: I came out from the land of Cainan, the land of my fathers, a land of righteousness unto this day. And my father taught me in all the ways of God.

Giz. 12:1. Enoch was taken, and no man knew where he went, where he is or what became of him. 2. But his works [i.e., missionary labors] are with the Watchers, while his days are with the Saints.

1 En. 12:1. And before this Enoch was hidden, and no man knew where he was hidden, and where he abode and what had become of him. 2. And his activities had to do with the Watchers, and his days were with the Holy Ones.


BHM, 4:129. Enoch served God and shunned the ways of the wicked sons of men. And he cleaved unto the Order of God in knowledge and intelligence. And he separated himself from men and hid from them for many days. 130. [After preaching] he withdrew again, as in the beginning, and hid himself, to serve the Lord.

This is the familiar theme of the holy man—Adam, Seth, Noah, Elijah, Abinadi, Ether, Mormon, etc.—who goes forth to admonish the wicked world from time to time, and then withdraws to the society of the righteous, usually in a vale or on a mountain. Such prophets are a disturbing presence among the people. Nowhere is the idea more movingly expressed than in this speech in the book of Moses:

Moses 6:37. And all men were offended because of him.

Migne, Dict. Apoc. 1:170. And Enoch arose in joy and went forth to preach. But all conspired against him … and all the elements were thrown into confusion.

Moses 6:39. When they heard him, no man laid hands on him; for fear came on all them that heard him; for he walked with God.

BHM, 4:130. When he visited them, “the children of men feared Enoch greatly.”
Moses 6:47. And as Enoch spake forth the words of God, the people trembled, and could not stand in his presence.
Giz. 13:3. Then going forth I spoke to all of them, and they were all afraid, and trembling and terror seized them.
5. Because they could not speak, neither raise their eyes to heaven for shame. …
1. En. 13:3. Then I went and spoke to them all together, and they were all afraid, and fear and trembling seized them.

What caused them to tremble most of all was that Enoch produced a special book as a witness against them. He climaxes the story of his vision “by the sea east” by reminding them of a certain book which

Moses 6:46. we have written among us, according to the pattern given by the finger of God; and it is given in our own language” [a book meant for them to read].

1 En. 93:2. I, Enoch, will declare … according to that which appeared to me in the heavenly vision … and have learnt from the heavenly tablets. 3. And Enoch began to recount from the books.

The purpose of the book, to witness their fallen state and betrayal of their ancient covenants, as given in the Joseph Smith version, finds striking confirmation in the ancient records:

Moses 6:45. We know them [our ancestors], and cannot deny, and even the first of all we know, even Adam.

Moses 6:46. For a book of remembrance we have written among us, according to the pattern given by the finger of God; and it is given in our own language.
Test. Abraham. Adam says: Tell me all its [the soul’s] deeds that are written down. And immediately an old man [Enoch] came forth from behind the veil with a book in his hand. … Then the soul denied, thinking that its deeds would not be remembered. … But Adam said: No, there is no lie in this place!”
Bk. En. (Black) 2:7. Think not in your souls that … your wrongdoings are not observed nor written down before the highest. 8. From now on all your transgressions are written down day and night until your judgment.
Gk. En. 97:6. And all … your unrighteousness shall be read out in the presence of the Great Holy One and in your own presence; because (104:10ff) … you have got by through juggling the books and falsifying reports: that is how you got your power, influence, and wealth!
Ch. Beatty 98:15. Woe to you who write false words … and falsify the record. … 91:2. Prepare, ye righteous ones, and present the records of your doings as a remembrance, give them as a testimony before the angels, that they may bring the sense of righteousness before the Most High, for a remembrance.
Test. of Dan 5:6 (and other Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs). For I have read in the book of Enoch the Just that your prince is Satan, and that all the spirits of iniquity will … lead the sons of Levi astray.

While Charles finds passages in this part of the Ethiopian Enoch “very confused” and “clearly corrupt,” all the versions agree on a consistent story: Enoch, while journeying in the highlands passing by a certain sea, has a vision in which the Lord talks with him and sends him to rebuke the people; he finds them assembled in a high place and discusses with them a certain book—a Hypomnemata, or memorial. As a result of what he tells them about the book, they are completely overcome and cannot raise their eyes to Enoch or to heaven for shame. The Joseph Smith account is substantially like that of the Greek and Slavonic texts.

Moses 6:47. And as Enoch spake forth the words of God [confirmed by the book], the people trembled, and could not stand in his presence.

Giz. 13:3. They asked me to read for them the Hypomnemata (memorial, remembrance) before the face of the Lord, 5. because they were in no condition to speak, neither could they raise their eyes to the heavens for shame.
1 En. 13:3ff. [In this version “the passage is very confused,” says Charles, “clearly corrupt.” (P. 30.)] 7. And I went off and sat down at the waters of Dan, in the land of Dan to the south and west of Hermon. I read their petition [or memorial, remembrance] till I fell asleep, 8. and behold … visions of chastisement, and a voice bidding me tell the Sons of Heaven and reprimand them. 9. When I awakened I came unto them, and they were all sitting gathered together weeping in “Abelsjail” … with their faces covered.
10. [Then he begins to read to them] from the Book of the Words of Righteousness, and of the reprimand … in accordance with the command of the Holy Great One in that vision.

Enoch’s Visions

Before dealing with the success of Enoch’s mission, we must consider more closely the marvelous visions which prepared him for it and which are the most significant part of the Enoch literature and the principal reason for its rejection by the conventional Christian and Jewish scholars of the fourth and following centuries. We refer to the cosmological or astronomical teachings most widely associated with the name of Enoch, who, not content with describing a purely spiritual heaven or beatific vision, insists on bringing real stars and planets into the picture—a thing which medieval and modern theologians find unspeakably crass—the very antithesis of everything worthy of the ethereal name of religion. While the Jewish doctors rejected the old cosmological absorption because it turned out to be altogether too popular with the early Christians, the Christian doctors in turn attacked them as too popular with the gnostic sectaries and even the heathen. Both agreed in tracing back their origin to Enoch.
Thus, quoting Eumolpus (140 B.C.), Eusebius reports that Abraham taught astronomy to the Egyptians at Heliopolis (the great prehistoric Egyptian observatory), giving himself and the Babylonians credit for establishing the science while actually recognizing Enoch as its true discoverer. Syncellus and Cedrenus hand down the tradition, on the authority of Enoch himself, that it was the angel Uriel who taught astronomy to Enoch. To clinch their disapproval, the doctors of Alexandria—the great “spiritualizers”—follow Clement of Alexandria, who maintains that according to Enoch it was the fallen angels who taught “astronomy and divination [mantike] and related sciences [technas]” to the human race. Mystics and theologians thereafter rejected Enoch’s cosmologies precisely because they were not mystic but scientific, sharing the Christian attitude that “cosmogenic accounts are in fact exceedingly rare both in Israel and in Islam. … Mohammed warned that they would lead to atheism—an old Rabbinical idea.”
Modern theologians see in Enoch “a curious attempt to reduce the scattered images of the Old Testament to a physical system. … It seems to repeat in every form the great principle that the world, natural, moral, and spiritual, is under the immediate government of God.” And what, we may ask, is wrong with that? The Reverend Michael Stuart, foremost American theologian when the book of Enoch first came to America in the 1838–49 editions, protested that the scriptures “nowhere introduce such idle and fantastic speculations about the natural phenomenons of the heavens and earth, as we find in the Book of Enoch,” and he speaks for conventional Christianity—even today—when he says, “Every science … is entirely foreign to the Scriptures, inasmuch as they were written purely for moral and religious purposes, and not to give lessons in science,” for which reason Enoch’s cosmology “is at present a sealed book.”
The churches are changing their tune so fast today that we must make an effort to remind ourselves that only yesterday Joseph Smith’s “cosmism” and literalism were viewed with universal horror and alarm. A leading Catholic theologian of our time assures us that the longing of the Christian is “to be rapt away from matter” and receive “the cup of the spirit which from heaven is held out to earth,” while his eminent Protestant counterpart is pleased to note that, thanks to present-day demythologizing of old teachings, “redemption and the spirit are no longer thought of in the Gnostic manner as quasi-physical entities, in spite of Paul.”
It was among the early sectaries that the astronomical parts of Enoch (72–82) enjoyed their greatest favor, according to Van Andel’s study. (Pp. 53, 40.) He notes that the inclusion of the physical world in the story of redemption was indeed inevitable in a history which is “a prologue to the Flood”—a very physical event indeed (p. 41)—and that “the exponents of such literature” very sensibly hold “that the Cosmos itself cannot very well be left out of the picture of God’s dealings with men, beginning with the Creation,” another physical event. Is it not a main purpose of the Bible “to make the cosmos understandable”? (P. 93.) “In Apocalyptic literature the greatest emphasis is laid on the historic personality of Enoch as the conveyor of cosmic knowledge.” (P. 118.) Long ago J. P. Migne protested that it was the very literal and “scientific” tone of it that rendered such religious literature dangerous, and that the proper apocryphal writings for Catholics to read are those which are frankly popular fables, poetic fantasies, and moral and symbolic tales claiming in the end no historical or physical reality.
To be continued