Evidence #126 | December 18, 2020

Apocalypse of Enosh

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Scripture Central

Abstract

The Apocalypse of Enosh, an ancient text described in the Cologne Mani Codex, contains many correlations with Nephi’s vision in the Book of Mormon.

In 1969 a lump of Greek parchment fragments was discovered in Upper Egypt near the ancient site of Lycopolis. When examined, carefully restored, and translated, it proved to be a codex (or book) describing the life and teachings of Mani, the founder of Manichaeism. Manichaeism was a syncretic form of Gnosticism with roots in late Judaism and Early Christianity.1 This document, known today as the Cologne Mani Codex, is considered by scholars to be the tiniest ancient codex yet discovered, measuring only 4.5 x 3.8 cm. Since its recovery, the text has appeared in several English translations.2

The Cologne Mani Codex dates to the 5th century AD, but draws upon earlier sources, including those of Mani, the apostle Paul, and other purported writings of the biblical patriarchs Adam, Seth, Enosh (Enos), Shem, and Enoch. One of these is a previously unknown apocalypse attributed to Enosh. This text, although brief, contains significant correlations with Nephi’s vision in the Book of Mormon.

Pondering in the Wilderness

Both Enosh and Nephi indicate that their experiences happened in the wilderness while they were pondering the things of God. Enosh says, “I went out to walk in the wilderness, considering mentally [he]aven and earth and [al]l works [and deed]s (wondering) b[y whose will] they exist.”3 Nephi received his vision while he dwelt with his family in the Valley of Lemuel in the wilderness, “as I sat pondering in mine heart” (1 Nephi 11:1).

Nephi pondering on a mountain. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Caught Away in the Spirit to a High Mountain

Enosh says, “I went forth to a flat plain and saw there lofty mountains. The spirit seized me and brought me with silent power to a mountain.”4 Nephi wrote, “I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot” (1 Nephi 11:1).

Physical Effect on the Body

Enosh says that during his experience, “My heart became heavy, all my limbs trembled, and the vertebrae of my back shook violently, and my feet could not stand upon their joints.”5 Nephi recorded that he was physically weakened by his vision and that he was “overcome” by what he had seen and could not return to his normal activities until he “had received strength” (1 Nephi 15:5–6).

An Angel Appears

Enosh says, “[Then there appeared to me an angel. He taught me about the world of de]ath. He took me up with great silence.”6 An angel also guides Nephi’s vision, asks and answers his questions, and teaches him (1 Nephi 11:14). One peculiar aspect of the Apocalypse of Enosh is that he is taught by an angel, but also conveyed to the mountain by “the spirit.” This peculiar feature of the text puzzled one commentator who wondered if the text is a composite of two different accounts.7 One remarkable feature of Nephi’s vision is that Nephi first encounters “the Spirit of the Lord” (1 Nephi 11:1) who seems to be the personage of the Holy Ghost (1 Nephi 11:11),8 and subsequently encounters an angel who guides him through the remainder of the vision. 

A Vision of Mysteries Revealed

When he was caught up to a high mountain Enosh says, “num[erous awes]ome [visions were rev]ealed to me.” The angel told him, “The Preminent Almighty One has sent me to you so that I may reveal to you the secret (things) which you contemplated, since indeed you have chosen truth.”9 Nephi had also chosen the truth. At the beginning of his record, he says that he had been favored with a knowledge of the “mysteries of God” (1 Nephi 1:1), and he prefaces the account of his own vision with a promise that those who have faith in Christ and diligently seek shall have “the mysteries of God unfolded unto them” (1 Nephi 10:19). He also says that he saw some things in his vision which were “too great for man; therefore, I was bidden that I should not write them” (2 Nephi 4:25).

The Patriarch Enosh. From the windows of a chapel. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Many things Seen in the Vision

Enosh says, “I beheld immense mountains and angels and many places.”10 Nephi also saw many places, including the land where Jesus would minister to the Jews (1 Nephi 11:13–34), the land of promise (1 Nephi 12:1), and the many nations and kingdoms of the Gentiles (1 Nephi 13:1–3). He also beheld, in addition to his own angelic guide, other “angels descending upon the children of men” to minister to them (1 Nephi 11:30).

Commanded to Write on Plates

An angel instructs Enosh to “Write down all these hidden things upon bronze tablets.”11 Nephi was also commanded to record a portion of his vision on “plates of ore” (1 Nephi 14:25–30; 19:1–5; 2 Nephi 5:29–31).

Written Plainly

According to Enosh, the angel said, “everything which you write recor[d most p]lainly.”12 Nephi shares a similar interest, “For behold, my soul delighteth in plainness unto my people that they may learn” (2 Nephi 25:4). Nephi also saw that in the latter days the Lord would restore many “plain and precious” things, a prophecy that would be fulfilled in part through the teachings recorded on his plates.

Hidden Up

The angel told Enosh “Write down all these hidden things upon bronze tablets and deposit (them) in the wilderness.”13 Nephi’s teachings from his vision were likewise written on metal plates and hidden in the earth to come forth by the gift and power of God (1 Nephi 13:35).14

Heard, Seen, and Recorded

The Colon Mani Codex says of Enosh that “everything that he heard and saw he recorded.”15 Nephi, before his vision had a great desire to “see, and hear, and know” the things which his father had seen in a vision (1 Nephi 10:17). He concludes the account of his vision by saying that he was forbidden to record “the remainder of the things which I saw and heard” (1 Nephi 14:28), and that he saw “the things which my father saw, and the angel of the Lord did make them known to me” (1 Nephi 14:29).

"Ye Shall Have My Words" by Judith Mehr.

Preserved for Future Generations

Enosh was told, “For [my] revelation, which shall not pass away, is ready [to be] reve[aled to al[l the breth]ren” and would be “left behind for the subsequent generations, all those belonging to the spirit of truth.”16 Nephi also taught that his record would not be destroyed and that “these plates should be handed down from one generation to another, or from one prophet to another” (1 Nephi 19:4; emphasis added). He also prophesied, “Wherefore, for this cause hath the Lord promised unto me that these things which I write shall be kept and preserved, and handed down unto my seed, from generation to generation … Wherefore, these things shall go from generation to generation as long as the earth shall stand” (2 Nephi 25:21–22; emphasis added).

An Ancient Pattern

In addition to the brief fragment from Enosh reportedly written on bronze plates, the Cologne Mani Codex also cites other accounts, including Paul’s vision in 2 Corinthians 12:2, and writings attributed to Adam, Seth, Enoch, and Shem, each of whom were commanded to record and preserve what they heard and saw.17

When Nephi was forbidden to write certain parts of his vision, the angel explained that the Apostle John and earlier prophets had also seen the things which Nephi had seen. “And also others who have been, to them hath he shown all things, and they have written them; and they are sealed up to come forth in their purity, according to the truth which is in the Lamb, in the own due time of the Lord, unto the house of Israel” (1 Nephi 14:26).

The ancient writer of the codex hoped that quotations from the visionary experiences of earlier prophets would lend credibility to those of Mani and his followers who claimed to be heirs of that tradition. Reeves explains:

Each patriarch had made a heavenly ascent during which they toured the divine realm and were made privy to esoteric knowledge. After returning to earth, they revealed their experiences and issued exhortations based upon the same to a small group of their peers, presumably selected on account of their moral fitness. In addition to promulgating their teachings orally among their disciples, each forefather also prepared a written first-person account of their experiences for future readers. The disciples apparently bore some responsibility for the faithful preservation and transmission of the inscribed testimonies to the later generations.18

Conclusion

The correlations between the Cologne Mani Codex and Nephi’s vision do not prove that the Book of Mormon is true, much less that the claims or teachings of Manichaeism (now an extinct religion), were valid. The brief accounts of biblical patriarchs cited by the ancient writer may even be fictional. The evidence, however, does show that Nephi’s revelation generally fits the ancient apocalyptic genre, and that it has a remarkably good match with a particular document within that genre.19 Importantly, the Cologne Mani Codex was not available to Joseph Smith, having been discovered one hundred and thirty-nine years after the account of Nephi’s vision was published.

Book of Mormon Central, “How Can Nephi’s Vision Be Called an Apocalypse? (1 Nephi 11:2–3),” KnoWhy 471 (September 27, 2018).

Nicholas J. Frederick, “Mosiah 3 as an Apocalyptic Text,” Religious Educator 15, no. 2 (2014): 40–63.

Matthew Scott Stenson, “Lehi’s Dream and Nephi’s Vision: Apocalyptic Revelations in Narrative Context,” BYU Studies Quarterly 51, no. 4 (2012): 155–179.

Jared M. Halverson, “Lehi’s Dream and Nephi’s Vision as Apocalyptic Literature,” in The Things Which My Father Saw: Approaches to Lehi’s Dream and Nephi’s Vision (2011 Sperry Symposium), ed. Daniel L. Belnap, Gaye Strathearn, and Stanley A. Johnson (Provo and Salt Lake City, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2011), 53–69.

John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, “‘Joseph Smith’s Use of the Apocrypha’: Shadow or Reality?Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 8, no. 2 (1996): 326–372.

Blake T. Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi: A Form-Critical Analysis,” BYU Studies Quarterly 26, no. 4 (1986): 67–95.

1 Nephi 1:11 Nephi 1:41 Nephi 10:171 Nephi 10:191 Nephi 11:11 Nephi 11:111 Nephi 11:13–341 Nephi 11:141 Nephi 12:11 Nephi 13:1–31 Nephi 14:25–301 Nephi 14:261 Nephi 14:281 Nephi 14:291 Nephi 15:5–61 Nephi 19:1–52 Nephi 4:252 Nephi 5:29–312 Nephi 25:42 Nephi 25:21–22

1 Nephi 1:1

1 Nephi 1:4

1 Nephi 10:17

1 Nephi 10:19

1 Nephi 11:1

1 Nephi 11:11

1 Nephi 11:13–34

1 Nephi 11:14

1 Nephi 12:1

1 Nephi 13:1–3

1 Nephi 14:25–30

1 Nephi 14:26

1 Nephi 14:28

1 Nephi 14:29

1 Nephi 15:5–6

1 Nephi 19:1–5

2 Nephi 4:25

2 Nephi 5:29–31

2 Nephi 25:4

2 Nephi 25:21–22

  • 1 For information on ancient Gnosticism, including Manichaeism, see Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature & History of Gnosticism (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1987).
  • 2 Ron Cameron and Arthur J. Dewey, trans. and eds., The Cologne Mani Codex, Society of Biblical Literature Texts and Translations Series (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1979). For a translation and detailed study of the portion of the text relating to the biblical patriarchs, see John C. Reeves, Heralds of That Good Realm: Syro-Mesopotamian Gnoses and Jewish Traditions (Leiden: Brill, 1996).
  • 3 Reeves, 141–142.
  • 4 Reeves, 142.
  • 5 Reeves, 142.
  • 6 Reeves, 142.
  • 7 Reeves, 148.
  • 8 Nephi introduces his vision with the promise that those who exercise faith receive revelation through the power of the Holy Ghost (1 Nephi 10:17–22), and explicitly says that he has authority from the Holy Ghost to say so (1 Nephi 10:22). After mentioning the Holy Ghost four times, Nephi continues with 1 Nephi 11:1, which strongly suggests that the “Spirit of the Lord” is the Holy Ghost and not the pre-existent Son of God. This interpretation is strengthened by the words of the Spirit of the Lord who praises the Most High God and commends Nephi for his faith in the Son of the Most High God, indicating that the Spirit of the Lord in these passages is not the Father or the Son, but apparently the Holy Ghost (1 Nephi 11:6–7). The Spirit also promises Nephi that in the vision he is about to be shown he will see the Son of God and will testify of him, again suggesting that the Spirit of the Lord, with whom Nephi has conversed, is not the future Messiah (1 Nephi 11:7, 11). Nephi later discusses “the Spirit of the Lord which was in our father” (1 Nephi 15:13) which he earlier equated with the Holy Ghost (1 Nephi 10:17). All of the above considerations strongly suggest that the Spirit of the Lord with whom Nephi converses, before his angelic guide takes over in 1 Nephi 11:14, is the Holy Ghost.
  • 9 Reeves, 142.
  • 10 Reeves, 142.
  • 11 Reeves, 142.
  • 12 Reeves, 142.
  • 13 Reeves, 142.
  • 14 See Evidence Central, “Ancient Hidden Records,” last updated November 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org.
  • 15 Reeves, 142.
  • 16 Reeves, 142.
  • 17 Reeves, 67, 111–112, 163–164, 183–184. The Manichaean author of the codex, after reviewing the accounts of earlier prophetic visions, states, “Pay attention to how each one of the primeval patriarchs communicated his own revelation to a select (group) whom he chose and gathered together from that generation during which he appeared, and after writing (it down), he left it for future generations. Each (patriarch) revealed (information) about his heavenly journey, and they (i.e., the chosen group) promulgated beyond … to record and display afterwards, and to laud and extol their teachers and the truth and the hope that was revealed to them. Thus each one spoke and wrote down a memoir recounting what he saw, including (an account) about his heavenly journey, during the period and cycle of his apostleship” (16).
  • 18 Reeves, 16.
  • 19 For more treatments of the Book of Mormon’s apocalyptic literature, see Book of Mormon Central, “How Can Nephi’s Vision Be Called an Apocalypse? (1 Nephi 11:2–3),” KnoWhy 471 (September 27, 2018); Nicholas J. Frederick, “Mosiah 3 as an Apocalyptic Text,” Religious Educator 15, no. 2 (2014): 40–63; Matthew Scott Stenson, “Lehi’s Dream and Nephi’s Vision: Apocalyptic Revelations in Narrative Context,” BYU Studies Quarterly 51, no. 4 (2012): 155–179; Jared M. Halverson, “Lehi’s Dream and Nephi’s Vision as Apocalyptic Literature,” in The Things Which My Father Saw: Approaches to Lehi’s Dream and Nephi’s Vision (2011 Sperry Symposium), ed. Daniel L. Belnap, Gaye Strathearn, and Stanley A. Johnson (Provo and Salt Lake City, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2011), 53–69; Blake T. Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi: A Form-Critical Analysis,” BYU Studies Quarterly 26, no. 4 (1986): 67–95.
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