A Strange Thing in the Land: The Return of the Book of Enoch, Part 6
By Hugh Nibley
Professor Emeritus of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University
Recording sacred matters has been a prophetic function since Adam labored diligently to provide holy books for his descendants. Enoch carried on that tradition, busily arranging and editing the documents as his grandson Methuselah reports, “After Enoch had imparted to me all the secrets in the book and in the Parables which had been given to him, he took them and put them together for me in the words of the Book of Parables.” (1 En. 68:1; italics added.) Here we must bear in mind that all the long-lived patriarchs from Adam to Enoch were contemporaries and knew each other. The situation is vividly brought home in D&C 107: 53–57. “Three years previous to the death of Adam, he called Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah … with the residue of his posterity who were righteous, into the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman,” and there “predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation,” and “These things were all written in the book of Enoch.” Thus Rabbi Eleaser refers to the Book of Enoch as identical with the book of the Generations of Adam mentioned in Genesis 5:1. [Gen. 5:1] Adam’s book already contained the story of his family “unto the latest generation.” (D&C 107:56.) “The Lord had his servants come down to Adam, saying to them, ‘Go ye and testify of me this day. Give to the Man Adam your hand in covenant, and covenant with him by law. …” Then the Lord put it down in writing, which the three witnesses all signed. “If you ask: ‘Could not the Lord have done without the written document, witnesses, and handclasp?’ the answer is that it is the Lord’s will that this shall be the proper procedure among the children of Adam forever.” So Joseph Smith is quite right in having Adam’s book come down through Enoch to Abraham, Moses, and us.
It went first to Methuselah, who received from Enoch a charge exactly like that later given to Moses:
Moses 1:40—“Moses, my son, … thou shalt write the things which I shall speak.”
Moses 1:41—“the children of men shall esteem my words as naught and take many of them from the book which thou shalt write.”
1 En. 82:1—“preserve, my son Methuselah, the books from thy father’s hand.”
2 En. 13; p. 48—“Take these books written by the hand of your father [Enoch] the foolish ones who do not know the Lord will not receive them but will reject them”
3 En. 104:10—“Sinners will alter and write against [the words] of truth, and lead many away, and lie.”
Then comes Noah, who has the same experiences with the books and passes on the same information as Enoch. “My grandfather Enoch,” says Noah, “gave me the teaching of all the secrets in the book … which had been given to him” (1 En. 68:1), and indeed the Joseph Smith Enoch makes both Methuselah and Noah the heirs of his teachings and promises (Moses 8:2–3; Moses 5–12). Next there is Abraham who, in the Testament of Abraham, has almost the same visions and makes the same heavenly journey as Enoch, and at the end of his celestial visit gives his source away: “I, Abraham, said to the archangel Michael, ‘O Lord, who is this honorable old man who has this book in his hand, who comes near to the judge [Adam].’ … He replied, ‘It is Enoch … God gave him the task to write down all the good and bad deeds a man’s soul would commit.’”
Like Abraham, Isaiah is introduced to a venerable old man with a book at the end of his journey to heaven, and the man is Enoch. The Lord himself says to Isaiah, “No mortal has ever seen what you have! Saying this, he placed a book in my hands and said to me: ‘Take this and know … that there is nothing hidden of all the works in that world, good or bad.’ And I took the book from his hand and read it, and behold everything was written down about every man from the beginning to the end of the world.”
This gives substance to the Lord’s words to the Nephites as he turned the books over to them: “Search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah. For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people.” (3 Ne. 23:1–2; italics added.) After Abraham, Jacob became the holder of the heavenly tablets, which told about the premortal existence, the eternal nature of Jacob’s own promise and calling, and the deeds of his posterity to the remotest times, according to a very old Jewish work called the Prayer of Joseph. Next Moses receives “the complete story of the creation” (Jub. 2:1), which he transmitted to us. “The whole burthen of Moses’ message,” wrote C. L. Woolley, “is the restatement of Abraham’s message, an appeal to the past.”Ezra too was commanded “to write down everything that has ever been in the world since the beginning … that perchance men might find the path, that they who live in the Last Days may not perish.” And how like Moroni’s situation is that of Ezra’s friend Baruch (both were associates of Jeremiah and Lehi) in a work “lost sight of for quite 1200 years” and discovered in 1866: “‘Earth, earth, earth, hear the words of the Mighty God and receive what I commit to thee, and guard them until the Last Days, so that, when thou art commanded, thou mayest restore them, so that strangers may not get possession of them!’ So the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them.” The personification of the earth is a motif that goes back to Enoch. (See Moses 7:48.)
According to many recently discovered documents, it was during the forty-day mission of the Lord after his resurrection that he handed on the books to his disciples exactly as he does in the Book of Mormon during the same period. The important Epistle of the Apostles, concerning which “whoever knows and observes what is written therein shall be like the angels,” was by the Lord “entrusted to Peter, John, Matthew, and to others at Jerusalem, that copies might be sent to certain carefully chosen disciples, and by them to all the branches [mansiones].” The newly discovered Apocryphon of James tells in detail how the books were entrusted by the Lord to Peter, James, and John for careful rationing; and in other new finds both Peter and Paul ascend to heaven and there receive holy books and are introduced to Enoch, the venerable scribe. Of particular interest is the emphasis on John, whose writings are now shown by the Dead Sea Scrolls, according to F. M. Cross, to be significantly “related to the Enoch literature.” Nowhere do we find fuller instructions for the guarding and transmitting of the records than those given by the Lord to John in the three newly found Apocryphons of John. And it was Joseph Smith who first apprised the world that there was a “record made on parchment by John and hidden up by himself.” (D&C 7, section heading.)
The ever-attentive reader may have noticed how no matter who the bookkeeper is, Enoch is somehow lurking in the background. After all is said, he is the supreme scribe, and nowhere is that marvelous economy of bookkeeping better described than in the Slavonic Enoch:
“Take thy books which thou hast written … and go down to earth and teach them to thy children. … And hand over the books which thou hast written with thy hand, and they shall read them and know the Creator of all … and they shall hand on these books written by thy hand to their children, and their children’s children, from parent to parent and from generation to generation. … The writing written by thy hand and by the hand of thy fathers Adam and Seth, shall not be destroyed unto the last days; for I have commanded special angels … to preserve the writing of the hand of thy fathers, that it perish not.” (2 En. 12.)
The injunction proceeds in words much like those of the book of Moses:
2 En.—“I know the evil disposition of mankind,
but I will spare a righteous man of thy family;
and the books written by thy hand shall appear, and that of thy fathers, among the children of men;
the appointed angels will show them unto them that believe, and explain them.”
Moses 1:41—“When the children of men shall esteem my words as naught …
I will raise up another like unto thee;
and they shall be had again among the children of men—
among as many as shall believe.”
Need we point out that the Slavonic Enoch was not known at the time of Joseph Smith?
The attentive reader will also have noted the frequent reference to the last days whenever the writings of Enoch were mentioned. This is an important key. A. L. Davies makes the generalization that a “feature … common to this apocalyptic literature, is the reserving of the visions and books of Enoch for the Last Days, for the elect to read and understand”; instantly bringing to mind the Lord’s promises to Enoch in Moses 7:60, 62: “As I live, even so will I come in the last days, in the days of wickedness and vengeance. … Truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony … to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect,” etc. It is Enoch who presides when all things are gathered in one; the book which is “to be revealed to them of the last days” is that very same “perfect book which existed from the first in the mind of God.” “I shall write all that is done in the world,” says Ezra, “that they who desire life in the Last Days might live.”
“This book,” declares the newly discovered Gospel of Truth, “is to be revealed to the aeons [all the other dispensations?] in the End-time. It is secret … known only to the initiated. It is a perfect book which existed first in the mind of God, by which it is conveyed to men.”
Contrary to what one might expect, and what has been taught for generations in colleges and seminaries, the ancient sectaries were not simply illiterates confined to an “oral gospel.” On the contrary, Pere Lagrange notes with stern disapproval, “These visionaries are the most book-bound (libresque) of men,” laying no claim to originality, but uniformly preoccupied, as J. Leipoldt has noted, with initiation rites, sacraments, baptism, common meals, secret books handed down from ancient times, and ordinances and doctrines alien to conventional Christianity. In all of this they resemble “late Judaism in general” and betray ancient connections with Babylonia and Iran.
So the call goes forth in the Chester Beatty Enoch papyrus: “Prepare, ye righteous, and present records of your doings as a remembrance, give them as a testimony before the angels.” (Gk. 91:3.) The chosen prophet “who raises up a generation of righteousness” is also chosen to “reveal to them the books of thy [Enoch’s] hand-writing and of thy fathers” and to be the leader of God’s word in that dispensation, “even of the faithful … and they shall tell it to the next generation,” and so on. In short, Enoch is writing for the church, and the idea of the church is nowhere more clearly stated than in the Enoch literature. Like the Apocryphon of James, it “is for those blessed ones who will be saved by their faith in it.” When Enoch places restrictions on his works with the command, “My sons, hand these books to all who want them, and instruct them, that they may see the Lord’s … works,” he is giving the same orders as the Lord gives the disciples in the Apocryphon of John: “I tell you this that you may write it down and give it secretly to those who are of one heart and one mind [homopneuma] with you; it is reserved for the breed who do not vacillate.” So Enoch again: “Distribute the books … among the nations of the earth who shall have the wisdom to fear the Lord; let them receive them and come to love them … read and study them.”
Part of the book’s appeal is its necessary secrecy, “revealed to the aeons in the End-time. It is a secret, a special writing, only for the initiates.” “‘It is given to you to write it down,’” says the Lord to John, “‘and it must be put in a safe place.’ Then he said to me, ‘Cursed shall be whoever gives it away as a gift or in return for food, drink, clothing, or anything of that nature.’” Then he handed the mysterion to John and immediately vanished. Such writings as are made known are carefully rationed: “Some things thou shalt publish, and some you must deliver in secret to the wise” or, in another Ezra text, “These words shalt thou publish openly, but those thou shalt hide,” twenty-four books being published and seventy withheld.
The tradition of secrecy begins with Enoch: “When Enoch found the Book of Adam and read it, he knew that the human race would not be able to receive it. So he hid it again, and it remained hidden until Noah.” But the practice began with Adam, who received a golden book from Michael and “hid it in the crevice of a rock.”
The Torah itself was buried when Israel sinned, to be dug up in later times. The Copper Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls shows us how in times of dire peril all those sacred things which had been dedicated, including the holy writings, were buried for safety, a practice clearly set forth in the Book of Mormon. (Hel. 13:18–20.) From early Babylonian sources comes the report of Berossus, that Kronus ordered Xisuthros (Noah) “to inscribe in writing the beginning, middle, and end of everything, and to bury the records in the city of Sippar, to be exhumed after the Flood.”
So when we are told that the writing of Moses “because of wickedness … is not had among the children of men” (Moses 1:23), the claim is confirmed by the tradition that the sons of Moses had a book which their father entrusted to them, but when their children lightly leaked its contents to the world, “the angel returned, took the book and carried it up with him to heaven.”
The oldest Sumerian epic “shows that Mesopotamian theologians knew about a ‘sacred book’ that is of divine inspiration … which contains the only correct and valid account of the ‘story’ of the deity.” This was the book of all knowledge possessed by the king in both Egypt and Babylonia. Through a Christian channel comes the well-known and very early Babylonian tradition that the Fish- or Flood-god Oannes taught men all the arts and sciences and wrote all knowledge down in a book, and “nothing since that time has ever been added to human knowledge.” This is the book that the Babylonian Noah was commanded to bury at the time of the flood, and it is not surprising that scholars have on philological and other grounds often identified Oannes with Enoch.
When Enoch and the others saw everything and wrote everything down such as pertains to this world, they were all writing the same book—and they knew it. In Revelation 5:12 [Rev. 5:12] there is such a book, “a ‘revelation’ from the Spirit of the Father into the ‘Heart of Man.’” Yet in the recently discovered reality of the hologram we have something akin to the paradox of the book each of whose letters contains all of its parts: “each letter is a perfect truth, like a perfect book in itself, for they are letters written in the Oneness.”
In the Joseph Smith Enoch, all the writings from Adam on down have one central perennial theme—the atoning mission of Jesus Christ, which emerges full-blown in a succession of dispensations. (Moses 7:39, 47, 54–67.) In the book of Enoch “the Lord, the Father, wrote with his own fingers ten words,” which were “teachings regarding the Son,” to whose earthly ministry Enoch looked forward. “The limited mysteries … which God caused Enoch to write” were later “revealed in their fullness by Jesus,” says the Pistis Sophia. It is the Savior, according to the Mandaeans, who “brings to mankind the primordial revelation contained in the heavenly books.” The tradition of the perennial gospel was known to the early church and is confirmed by Athanasias, who explains that the gospel is not new, but was preached and known to Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Moses, before the time of Christ. Later Christianity, however, down to the present, lays great emphasis on the originality of Christ, and Pico della Mirandola, while translating a newly discovered manuscript of Ezra, reported with amazement, “I see in it, as God is my witness, the religion not so much of Moses as of Christ!”
The idea of doubled sets of books, one on earth and one in heaven, is also widespread and very ancient. Of Enoch’s writings we are told, “some of them were written and inscribed above in heaven, in order that the angels may read them” (1 En. 108:7), while Enoch’s own writings are transcripts from a book kept in heaven, and “made known in sundry portions to the Fathers,” all of whom, but most notably Enoch, report having got their information by “reading it in the heavenly tablets” (e.g., Jub. 4:1). Thus by the books above and below, brought together like the sticks of Joseph and Ephraim in perfect agreement as perfectly agreeing witnesses, the world will be judged.
Enoch’s writings are above all else a warning to the wicked, particularly “in the Last Days, in the days of wickedness and vengeance,” to the end “that perchance they who live in the last days may not perish.” His book is “for those that keep the Law in the last days; this book is for them” and equally for those who break it: “In those days Enoch received books of zeal and wrath, and books of disquiet and expulsion.” Enoch’s book is both a threat and a comfort, “an exhortation not to be troubled on account of the times,” but to be vigilant and never overconfident.
Whenever the sacred writings come forth, they are greeted by the righteous with glad surprise and eager enjoyment: “Then shall the books which are given to the righteous become a cause of joy and uprightness and much wisdom … and they shall believe in them and rejoice over them.” (1 En. 104:10–13.) They “will be shown to men of faith,” and “will be glorified more in the latter end than before.” (2 En. 12.) “They who have the wisdom to receive them … will be nourished by them and become attached to them.” (2 En. 12, p. 48.) “This hope,” comments R. H. Charles, “was to a large degree realized in the centuries immediately preceding and following the Christian era,” until the doctors of the church threw the treasure away. At a time when the church will be “oppressed and suffering and has no place to set its foot,” the sacred writings, having “evaded the hands of the wicked,” finally come into the hands of the Saints, properly witnessed and Certified and “written in exceeding plainness”; the Saints will kiss them and say: O Wisdom of the Great One! O armor of the Apostles!
The Curtain Rises
The Pearl of Great Price should be read as a single work, an epitome of world history, summarizing and correlating in the brief scope of less than sixty pages the major dispensations of the gospel, past, present, and future. The story is told largely by excerpts which announce themselves as fragments of original books written by Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, and Joseph Smith, all centering about the figure of Christ and his mission in the meridian of time, with a preview of the millennium thrown in. Enoch’s proper place in that story is best known by those who see the big picture. Thus, the following section deals with the type of story that Enoch’s history belongs to, the visions from Creation to Judgment.
The recent flowering of comparative studies that look into long-neglected or newly discovered apocryphal writings makes it clear that the concept of recurrent dispensations of light and darkness, restoration and apostasy is valid for every age of recorded history. Nowhere is the pattern set forth more clearly than in the epic sweep of the Pearl of Great Price. Surprisingly, the perennial pattern presented there is not limited to Jewish and Christian traditions, but extends to the oldest ritual literature—epic and dramatic—of the human race; chapter one of our book of Moses is as much an introduction to world literature in general as to our conventional scriptures. Daring as such a claim may seem, the more carefully the text is studied the more impressively it is confirmed. Consider the episodes in the order given by this remarkable prologue to the study of man.
A. The story opens (verse 1) with Moses speaking with God face to face on “an exceedingly high mountain,” wrapped in the divine glory, sharing the light of divinity. [Moses 1:1] This situation, including the mountain, is the well-known epic and dramatic “prologue in heaven,” with the hero receiving a special calling and assignment to a work in this lower world; like the audience, he is being prepared for the blows that follow.
B. Next the lights go out, the glory departs, and we find Moses lying helpless upon the bare earth, cut down to size (Moses 1:9–10); he slowly regains his strength until he is able to utter his first commentary on life: “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” Man begins his earthly career at the bottom of the ladder. Then the hero’s next remark puts a different face on things: “But now mine own eyes have beheld God; … his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him.” (Moses 1:11.)
And this is the human predicament, man’s condition in its most stark and elementary terms, la misère et la gloire, that besetting contradiction which is the constant concern of early Christian and Jewish writers and subject of countless philosophical and Gnostic texts, endlessly restated as a perennially new discovery in all the great literature of the world: “How weary, flat, stale and unprofitable” is the earthly life of man the “quintessence of dust,” and yet “how noble in reason” is that same man, “how infinite in faculty! … in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god.” (Hamlet 1, ii, 133; 2, ii, 303–8.) Yet Moses declares that man is nothing, even while in the same breath calling attention to the clouds of glory still remembered from his native condition.
C. In this state of weakness and suspense, of trials and contradictions, he is the ideal target for the Adversary, who with his usual evil methodology chooses precisely this moment to attack, taking full advantage of his enemy’s imperiled condition. With the appearance of this sinister figure the drama begins in earnest. Satan wants to be acknowledged as the ruler of the world—that is the theme—and Moses promptly challenges his claim. Moses, remembering his own high calling, questions his adversary, asking again and again: “Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?
“For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me. … But I can look upon thee in the natural man. Is it not so, surely?” (Moses 1:13–14.)
Note that the contest is not between God and the Devil—that was never a contest. It is Moses himself who here proclaims his own advantage over Satan, as he goes on: “Where is thy glory, for it is darkness unto me? And I can judge between thee and God.” (Moses 1:15.) In the next three verses he repeats that he shares the nature of the Only Begotten and finds Satan a fraud: “Satan, deceive me not,” ending by summarily ordering him off the premises. (Moses 1:16–18.) These are stinging blows, for Satan has always claimed the earth as his own special precinct and the role of the Only Begotten as his exclusive vehicle. Moses’ repeated reminders of his own intimacy with the Only Begotten drives the pretender into a screaming rage.
D. Casting off all pretense to his celebrated subtlety and cunning, the Adversary resorts to an all-out frontal attack and the battle is on—the ritual combat that meets us so often in the earliest dramatic and epic literature of the race: “Satan cried with a loud voice, and rent upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me.” (Moses 1:19.) Moses was terrified by the ferocity and passion of the attack; in fact he was quite overcome. Paralyzed with fear, “he saw the bitterness of hell.” (Moses 1:20.) It is the well-known theme of the hero-king reduced to the last extremity, calling with his last ounce of strength out of “the bitterness of hell”: “Nevertheless, calling upon God, he receives strength” (Moses 1:20), and at the last moment is delivered.
And now the tables are turned: It is the dark opponent who is down; he trembles and the earth shakes as he retreats in uproar and anguish. Here it is in order to note that the Adversary who relentlessly assails the hero in the earliest epics is none other than the “Earth-shaker,” Enosichthon.
E. Next in order, according to the established pattern, the hero, having met and survived the onslaughts of the Destroyer, should be hailed as victor and king, and this is exactly what happens in our story; God proclaims him blessed, endows him with divine strength, and declares him chosen to be the leader and deliverer of his people, his own representative on earth: “I, the Almighty, have chosen thee, and thou shalt be made stronger than many waters; … as if thou wert God … for thou shalt deliver my people.” (Moses 1:25–26; italics added.) As we have shown elsewhere, the king must emerge victorious at the moment of passing through the waters of life, death, rebirth, and purification, and the ancients always understood Moses’ leading his people through the Red Sea as the type and similitude of a baptism, symbolizing at one and the same time death, birth, victory, and purification from sins.
F. In the scene that follows, Moses is shown the extent of his “kingdom,” i.e., his field of labor; viewing the vast display, he is filled with wonder and asks the Epic Question: “Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so, and by what thou madest them?” (Moses 1:30; italics added.) What is behind it all? Let us recall how the ancient epic poet, after stating his basic proposition in the opening lines, launches into his story by asking for revelation in the same terms: “Say first what cause moved our Grandparents in that happy state … to transgress … Who first seduced them?” Thus Milton in Paradise Lost, borrowing from Vergil in his Aenead: Musa mihi Causas memoro, quo numine laeso, quidve dolens, etc.—why, who, how? Who borrows in turn from Homer: Ex hou de ta proté … tis t’ ar’ sphoe theon—for what cause, who was responsible?
G. The epic question really invites the poet himself to come onto the stage and tell his whole story. Having asked, we cannot begrudge him the long hours needed for a full-scale epic recital. In Moses’ case, we are spared, for the Lord will give him “only an account of this earth” (Moses 1:35), still with the reminder that he must never lose sight of the vast cosmic perspective which forms the background to the story and without which human history becomes a rather pointless and parochial tale.