Scottish explorer James Bruce (1730-17974) set out to find an ancient text to strengthen his faith. Guest writer JACOB MILNESTEIN says what he actually found was The Devil!
The more austere a faith, the more sensationalised its taboos seem to become. When renowned Scottish explorer and scholar, James Bruce, set out to find a book he hoped would preserve the secret of ancient rites, he returned instead with an ancient Ethiopian depiction of the origin of the very source of evil itself: the Devil!
Denounced by the early Church fathers and preserved solely, save for fragments, within the ancient Ethiopian tongue of Ge’ez, the Book of Enoch offers us a tale no establishment of the time wished to see credited. Rooted in esoteric Jewish thought, the Book of Enoch suggests that the hated and feared figure of the Devil itself may once have been humanity’s very own ally and mentor.
At a time in which Britain was involved in lengthy territorial conflicts with the Spanish state, James Bruce travelled extensively, always studying the native cultures and artifacts of those around him. For a time he was British consul in Algiers, spending several years pursuing his interests in antiquarian relics and ancient ruins.
It is possible that it was at this point that Bruce first learnt of the significance of the missing Book of Enoch for, upon completion of his role in Algiers, he took it upon himself to set out in search of the Blue Nile; the true Nile of the ancients. Yet despite his scientific ambitions, Bruce also had a more arcane agenda, one rooted in the very tradition of Western Christianity and the mythology of its central antagonist.
Passing through Alexandria, Thebes, and Cairo to name but a few places, Bruce arrived in the former Ethiopian capital of Gondor in 1770. From Gondor he travelled through Abyssinia, ostensibly in search of the Blue Nile whilst also searching out the Book of Enoch.
A member of the Canongate Kilwinning Lodge Masonic lodge, Bruce’s reasoning for his comprehensive study of the ancient Ethiopian language, Ge’ez, and his travels to a region noted for its dislike of outsiders are both questions that only can be addressed by what Bruce hoped to find within that ancient text.
Equated with the Egyptian deity, Thoth by some Freemasons, Enoch was considered the founder of the written language. It is thought that part of James Bruce’s motive in uncovering the ancient text was due to this belief that Enoch was, in some way, the author of secrets that Masons believed they were the true inheritors of. Finding Enoch’s words would validate their own beliefs.
Instead, Bruce found himself confronted with a notion far more perplexing.
Whilst we have become accustomed to the Devil as the fall guy for all that is bad in the world, he is a convenient excuse for the theology argument of why God always evil to happen, what we see in the Book of Enoch is that the original story contained no antagonist other than God Himself.
It is not surprising then that the Book of Enoch, with its narrative implying that the source of wisdom originated instead from those who the Hebrew deity attempted to destroy during the Flood, never found a place in canonised Christianity, and was left unpublished during Bruce’s lifetime.
To have made public such a story would have been to equate the development of culture, of creativity, not with Christ and the institution of the Church, but rather to Azazel and the angels who turned away from God.
Such an idea was anathema to both the religious and social climate of the time.
This tale would have caused massive unrest, unrest of the kind that few authorities were willing to entertain. As such, despite the richness of its imagery, the story of the Book of Enoch continues to remain but a footnote in histories detailing the life and times of this most inspiring of Scottish adventurers.
As such, the true role of the Devil in Western culture is one that is largely ignored.
JACOB MILNESTEIN writes stories. His most recent story, “lecteur de tarot” can be found here.