Enoch, wild man and wizard … of sorts

So I have become intrigued by aspects of the figure of Enoch in the Book of Moses: the wild man and seer who is slow of speech by human standards yet utters a divine language that allows him to command nature.

First I happened to notice some books on the literary stereotype of the wild man, such as Wild Men In the Looking Glass: The Mythic Origins of European Otherness by Roger Bartra. This set to me wondering whether there might be some connection with our wild man Enoch in the Pearl of Great Price.

A search on google books showed that there was, curiously enough, at least one native North American in the late 1800s with the name of Enoch Wildman, though this would seem to be coincidence. The only other lead was a vague association between Enoch in the ancient parabiblical texts and Enkidu from the Epic of Gilgamesh, archetype of the wild man.

Of course, the term ‘wild man’ is used of Ishmael in the KJV. But that does not really satisfy. I kept reading in Bartra’s book. One of the wild men he discusses is the famed sorcerer Merlin. Grieved at the death of his brothers, Merlin takes to life in the forest. When dragged backed to civilization he is found to possess the ability to reveal the past and future. He escapes once more to the forest, only to be seen again at his wife’s second marriage. He appears riding a stag in the company of many animals. Though now a hermit, the sight of his replacement enrages him so he tears off the stag’s antlers and casts them like javelins at the head of the groom.

Little of this fits our Enoch. Yet some of it does. The ability to control animals. The wild man’s visionary powers (whether religious or magical). And then there’s language. As Bartra writes:

The wild man did not have language, but took words by storm in order to express the murmurings of another world, the signals that nature gave society. The wild man spoke words that did not have literal meaning, but were eloquent in communicating sensations that civilized language could not express. . . . The medieval wild man was a stranger in his land, and his voice, gestures, and mimicry revealed a form of language shared by the wild beasts, a secret network of passionate messages emitted from the deep wells of nature.

Our Enoch is also slow of speech. But he does not learn the language of nature by living in the forest, even if he is a wild man. He gets it from God. Incidentally, Enoch and the notion of an all-powerful divine language can be found outside the Pearl of Great Price. There is an entire cottage industry of Enochian magic stemming from the work of John Dee and Edward Kelly in the 1500s, who used scrying techniques to communicate with angels.

I am not sure what to make of all this and am wandering pretty far from my field here. Hopefully others will be able shed some light (paging e.g. Steve Fleming … any instances of Jesus’ method for healing of the blind man being used in the middle ages and later in order to obtain revelation?). One of the things that intrigues me is that in the Book of Moses there is no explanation as to why Enoch should be called a wild man—at least not that I can see (by all means point out what it is I’m missing). The literary stereotype of the wild man helps some, though in many ways it does not fit. So what’s the deal?

12 Replies to “Enoch, wild man and wizard … of sorts”

  1. My much less sophisticated take on this, inspired by a nephew’s diagnosis, is that maybe Enoch had Tourett syndrome. This would make him slow of speech and appear to some as a wild man.

  2. Craig M., if only! I would love to read me some prophetic utterances that salt my ears and make me blush not so much for the message, but for the parentheticals and exclamations. Plus, this would dramatically increase the incidence and intensity of the hand-wringing concomitant with parsing words that leave the mouths of prophets.

    And regurgitated GA talks in sacrament meeting and eq/rs would never be the same–assuming the talks weren’t edited before publication.

  3. Isak Dinesen said that the difference between wild animals and domestic is that the wild animals live in a direct relationship to God.

  4. “I would love to read me some prophetic utterances that salt my ears and make me blush not so much for the message, ”

    Indeed. The Old Testament has a passel of these, but changing language, cultural mores and translation have conspired to hide them from the typical Bible reader. We’ve got a language series coming up at Patheos and we’ll have two articles on crude language (one on Mormons and swearing and one on crude language in the scriptures.)

  5. I read that the name Lamech means “wild man”. Of course I am not sure we know much about the meaning of names back then or even what the real names were, but going with that sense of things… was he “Enoch the Lamech”?

  6. G. I don’t have anything on that but I’m still just scratching the surface.

    The wildman motif is interesting. A lot of premodern cultures had the notion that deities lived in the wild and that you could go there to engage with their power.

  7. I should also add that this notion persists in the middle ages at the folk level. People believed that they could more easily become possessed in the wild. Though the spirit beings were often ambivalent fairy-type beings rather than malevolent demons.

  8. thanks for the thoughts.


    all readings (of scripture) are equal (in the eyes of the lord), one being no more sophisticated than another.


    i can almost visualize the handwringing.


    when does a dane not know what she/he is talking about.


    that ought to be pleasant.


    a conflation between enoch and lamech is not impossible (see bottom, r-hand column) but would be pretty disappointing, i think:



    i was hoping that jesus’ blind man healing had been adapted as common practice in medieval and later times. oh well.

    reading our enoch against the wild man motif is fun. whether it’s justifiable i don’t know, what without any reference to him actually living in the wild.

  9. Still, though, the term wild man was what others called Enoch, right? That is, to his contemporaries, all his powers made him seem as though he had lived in the wild whether he actually had or not.

  10. yes. let’s go with that, steve.

    i only hesitate, wondering whether there could be a range of meaning for wild man besides the technical homo sylvestris.

    for instance, widtsoe seems to have thought it refered to the power of prophesy being the product of a crazy brain and was wrongly applied to enoch:


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