Evidence #58 | September 19, 2020

Wordplay on Enos

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Scripture Central


Evidence that Enos used a wordplay on his own name comes from the way that his introduction mirrors Nephi’s self-introduction (which uses a similar wordplay) and from the way that Enos’s short record interacts with the Jacob-Esau cycle in the Bible.

In the introduction to his short book, Enos declared, “Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it …” (Enos 1:1). Matthew L. Bowen has proposed that in making this statement, Enos was making a play on words using his own name, which Bowen described as a “Hebrew poetic term for ‘man’.”1

Enos by Al R. Young.

Evidence that this wordplay was intentional can be seen in the way that it mirrors Nephi’s introduction. The name Nephi is most likely derived from an Egyptian word (nfr) which means “good,” “goodly,” “fine,” or “fair.”2 It appears that Nephi drew attention to this meaning by mentioning his knowledge of God’s “goodness” and that he was born of “goodly parents.” So both writers apparently used a wordplay on their own names to describe their parents:3

1 Nephi 1:1

Enos 1:1

I, Nephi [Egyptian nfr = “good,” “goodly”], having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

I, Enos [Hebrew ʾĕnôš = “man”] knowing my father that he was a just man — for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord — and blessed be the name of my God for it

Commenting upon the relationship between these passages, Bowen explained,

Thus, we see Nephi’s self-introduction with his name closely juxtaposed with terms that match the etymology of his name—“good(ly)” and “goodness”—imitated by Enos, whose self-introduction closely juxtaposes his name with a term that precisely matches its etymology—“man.” The autobiographical wordplays in 1 Nephi 1:1 and Enos 1:1 occur within highly similar structures. Together, both constitute as lucid examples of textual dependency and onomastic wordplay as one could wish to find in the Book of Mormon.4

Bowen further proposed that Enos’s record intentionally interacts with the use of “man” in the accounts of Jacob and Esau found in Genesis:5

Enos 1:1

Genesis 25:27

Genesis 27:11

Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos [ʾĕnôš = poetic Hebrew “man”], knowing my father [Jacob] that he was a just man [ʾîšʾĕnôš ṣaddîq; note: ʾĕnôš, ʾîš, andʾādām are synonyms]—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it

And the boys grew: and Esau was cunning hunter [ʾîš yōdēaʿ ṣayid, literally, man knowing hunting], man of the field [ʾîš śādeh]; and Jacob was a plain man [ʾîš tām; or, a “man of integrity”], dwelling in tents.

And Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man [ʾîš śāʿir], and I am a smooth man [ʾîš ḥālāq].

Enos by Lester Yocum.

These distinctions between the type of man that Esau was and the type of man that Jacob was seem to be alluded to by Enos, perhaps to show his own transformation from one set of qualities or characteristics to another (i.e. from a natural man like Esau to a more spiritual man like Jacob). After elaborating upon these and a number of other interrelated wordplays that surface in relation to these characters (Enos, Jacob, and Esau) and the narratives surrounding their lives, Bowen concluded:

Enos’s skillful adaptation and reworking of numerous details from the Jacob-Esau cycle to tell the story of his own divine “wrestle,” experiences with Christ’s atonement, subsequent spiritual “struggles,” and final sanctification through the Christ’s atonement makes his autobiography a short masterpiece.

Book of Mormon Central, “How Did Enos Liken the Scriptures to His Own Life? (Enos 1:27),” KnoWhy 265 (January 23, 2017).

Matthew L. Bowen, “‘I Kneeled Down Before My Maker’: Allusions to Esau in the Book of Enos,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 27 (2017): 29–56.

Matthew Bowen, “‘And There Wrestled a Man with Him’ (Genesis 32:24): Enos’s Adaptations of the Onomastic Wordplay of Genesis,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 10 (2014): 153.

Matthew L. Bowen, “Wordplay on the Name ‘Enos’,” Insights: A Window on the Ancient World 26, no. 3 (2006): 2.

John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, “Jacob and Enos: Wrestling before God,” Insights: A Window on the Ancient World 21, no. 5 (2001): 2–3.

Enos 1:1–27

Enos 1:1–27

Wordplay on Enos
Book of Mormon

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