Lovecraft and the Book of Enoch

A couple people over the past few weeks have asked me about Lovecraft’s knowledge of the Book of Enoch.

For those who aren’t familiar with this work, the Book of Enoch is an apocryphal book of the Bible, dating to the 3rd century BC. It is referred to in Jude, but was omitted when the canon lists for the Bible were established. The first section of the most commonly-quoted version (1 Enoch), details how two hundred angels came down to earth on Mount Hebron and fell in love with human women. They married and gave their new families many different types of knowledge, such as the ability to create weapons. Their offspring became giants, however, and quickly destroyed all the nearby life in endless conflict. These sins led God to cause the Great Flood to destroy humanity and to send his archangel Michael to bind these angels in deep valleys for seventy generations, after which they will be brought to the lake of fire for eternal punishment.

Overall, it sounds quite a bit like Lovecraft, right? Creatures from the sky coming to earth, mating with human women to produce monsters (a la “The Dunwich Horror”), teaching forbidden lore, and then being imprisoned (by impersonal forces, not an angel, in HPL) in remote places of the world. The parallels are great enough to make many people wonder, and the speculation has become a staple of Internet Lovecraft speculation, the most notable source being Colin Low’s Necronomicon Anti-FAQ.

We shouldn’t forget, however, that HPL was quite a fan of mythology, largely of the Classical variety. Similar parallels may be found with the tales of the Titans and gods of Greek mythology, and the narrative of Enoch is alluded to in Genesis. Thus, just because Lovecraft writes something with a particular mythic resonance might not mean that he had read a particular myth.

Lovecraft refers to the Book of Enoch at least once in his work, in his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature“:

Fragments like the Book of Enoch and the Claviculae of Solomon well illustrate the power of the weird over the ancient Eastern mind, and upon such things were based enduring systems and traditions whose echoes extend obscurely even to the present time.

Does this mean that Lovecraft had read the Book of Enoch? I find it unlikely, based on the vagueness of the passage. Lovecraft has become infamous for his “second-hand erudition,” a tendency to use whatever sources he had at hand instead of seeking the originals. The classic example is Lovecraft using the works ofThomas Huxley as his source for Pigafetta’s Regnum Congo, the book so prominently featured in “The Picture in the House.” Another example is his use of Rhode Island vampire legends in “The Shunned House” gleaned, not from local research, but from a work of popular folklore by Charles Skinner (see my Fortean Times article for more).

I also did some checking around on this topic, talking to different Lovecraft scholars and searching through my own collection. As best I can tell, HPL apparently never mentions the Book of Enoch again – not in his fiction, not in his non-fiction, and not in the over four million words of correspondence that have been transcribed. HPL was not one to cover up his influences; if he was reading a book he thought was excellent, he would tell his friends about it. No such mention of the Book of Enoch has yet been found, indicating its influence on his thought was most likely minimal.

Given this, it’s most likely that Lovecraft’s reference to the Book of Enoch came through other sources. I can identify at least three that Lovecraft is known to have read – the Encyclopedia Britannica, Spence’s Encyclopedia of Occultism, and Eliphas Levi’s Mysteries of Magic. We can’t be entirely sure when some of these were read, but each one contains more than enough information to allow Lovecraft to write the passage in “Supernatural Horror”.

Published in: on October 15, 2007 at 7:23 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A very interesting note in the history of the Necronomicon. This is also a good reminder of HPL’s personal reading and research habits.

  2. Interesting summary and very informative.

  3. Interesting to read about HPL and Enoch, but it must be pointed out that the bible was not assembled under Constantine. Also, there is not one Book of Enoch, but three.

  4. Bull,

    Is that better?

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