Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Elias and Enoch are two very important personages of antiquity. They are the only mortals who have been taken out of the world without having first tasted of death. A very learned man has pretended that these are allegorical personages. The father and mother of Elias are unknown. He believes that his country, Gilead, signifies nothing but the circulation of time. He proves it to have come from Galgala, which signifies revolution. But what signifies the name of the village of Galgala!

The word Elias has a sensible relation to that of Elios, the sun. The burned sacrifice offered by Elias, and lighted by fire from heaven, is an image of that which can be done by the united rays of the sun. The rain which falls, after great heats, is also a physical truth.

The chariot of fire and the fiery horses, which bore Elias to heaven, are a lively image of the four horses of the sun. The return of Elias at the end of the world seems to accord with the ancient opinion, that the sun would extinguish itself in the waters, in the midst of the general destruction that was expected, for almost all antiquity was for a long time persuaded that the world would sooner or later be destroyed.

We do not adopt these allegories; we only stand by those related in the Old Testament.

Enoch is as singular a personage as Elias, only that Genesis names his father and son, while the family of Elias is unknown. The inhabitants of both East and West have celebrated this Enoch.

The Holy Scripture, which is our infallible guide, informs us that Enoch was the father of Methuselah, or Methusalem, and that he only dwelt on the earth three hundred and sixty-five years, which seems a very short life for one of the first patriarchs. It is said that he walked in the way of God and that he appeared no longer because God carried him away. “It is that,” says Calmet, “which makes the holy fathers and most of the commentators assure us that Enoch still lives; that God has borne him out of the world as well as Elias; that both will come before the last judgment to oppose the antichrist; that Elias will preach to the Jews, and Enoch to the Gentiles.”

St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews — which has been contested — says expressly, “by faith Enoch was translated, that he should not see death, because death had translated him.”

St. Justin, or somebody who had taken his name, says that Elias and Enoch are in a terrestrial paradise, and that they there wait the second coming of Jesus Christ.

St. Jerome, on the contrary, believes that Enoch and Elias are in heaven. It is the same Enoch, the seventh man after Adam, who is pretended to have written the book quoted by St. Jude.

Tertullian says that this work was preserved in the ark, and even that Enoch made a second copy of it after the deluge.

This is what the Holy Scripture and the holy fathers relate of Enoch; but the profane writers of the East tell us much more. They believe that there really was an Enoch, and that he was the first who made slaves of prisoners of war; they sometimes call him Enoc, and sometimes Edris. They say that he was the same who gave laws to the Egyptians under the name of Thaut, called by the Greeks Hermes Trismegistus. They give him a son named Sabi, the author of the religion of the Sabæans.

There was a tradition in Phrygia on a certain Anach, the same whom the Hebrews call Enoch. The Phrygians held this tradition from the Chaldæans or Babylonians, who also recognized an Enoch, or Anach, as the inventor of astronomy.

They wept for Enoch one day in the year in Phrygia, as they wept for Adonis among the Phœnicians.

The ingenious and profound writer, who believes Elias a person purely allegorical, thinks the same of Enoch. He believes that Enoch, Anach, Annoch, signified the year; that the Orientals wept for it, as for Adonis, and that they rejoiced at the commencement of the new year; that Janus, afterwards known in Italy, was the ancient Anach, or Annoch, of Asia; that not only Enoch formerly signified, among all nations, the beginning and end of the year, but the last day of the week; that the names of Anne, John, Januarius, Janvier, and January, all come from the same source.

It is difficult to penetrate the depths of ancient history. When we seize truth in the dark, we are never sure of retaining her. It is absolutely necessary for a Christian to hold by the Scriptures, whatever difficulty he may have in understanding them.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01