Arguing about Arguing with Angels

I really couldn’t resist that title.

Egil Asprem has responded to my review of his book Arguing with Angels, and he makes some excellent points therein.  Sara Veale makes a good start on a response, and I think I might be able to fill in the rest.  Go read them, and come back here.

I’d agree with both Egil and Sara that there’s very few mentions of Enoch in Dee’s work.  There seems to be a notable exception regarding Liber Mysteriorum Sextus et Sanctus, which someone (apparently Ashmole, it’s unclear from the references I’ve found) entitled The Book of Enoch, but that’s post-Dee at best.  Yet I would say that Enoch was indeed part of the milieu in which John Dee worked.  The crux of the matter is how we examine this piece of data:

However, the most fascinating material about Enoch was simply not available to Dee: the Book of Enoch did not survive in the West, and only became available to European scholars in 1773, when Scottish adventurer James Bruce returned with three copies translated into Ethiopian that he had presumably plundered  from a monastery in Abyssinia.

Whereas Egil sees this as a reason for Dee not to be familiar with Enoch, I see it as the opposite.  What sets Enoch apart from the other Biblical figures in touch with angels, such as Daniel and Tobit, was the existence of a text mentioned by the church fathers dealing with angels but now lost.  As such, the interest was intense in discovering it – in fact, intense enough to create volumes attributed to Enoch, in the same manner as the Necronomicon was created in the twentieth century.  Even if we assume that Dee did not encounter such material during his training at Cambridge – and I’ll leave that for someone more familiar with his life or higher education of his time to determine – he would have encountered mentions of it in the works of the Kabbalist Johann Reuchlin, which this article does a good job of summarizing.

Was Dee trying to reconstruct the Book of Enoch via supernatural means?  I’d say the evidence is sketchy at best.  Would Dee have been aware of the existence of the book?  Probably.  Did others see his project as an attempt to reconstruct a lost work?  The note on the Dee manuscript above suggests so.  As such, I think that speculation regarding Enoch and his milieu would have been part of Dee’s intellectual landscape, even if it did not directly affect his work.

UPDATE:  Egil answers my post, and I think we’re now fundamentally on the same page.

Although I generally dislike going to great lengths to research a blog post, I did find an interesting passage in Peterson’s edition of John Dee’s Five Books of Mystery.  On April 18, 1583, Dee was speaking with a spirit known as Il about the Angelic language, trying to find if any hints of it still existed in print.

[Dee]:  Did Adam write any thing in that language? Il: – That is no question.

[Dee]:  Belike than, they were deliuered from one to an other by tradition or els Enoch is boke, or prophesie, doth, or may seme, to be written in the same language: bycause mention is made of it in the new Testament in Jude his Epistle…

Il:  I must distinguish with you. Before the flud, the spirit of God was not utterly obscured in man.  Theyr memories were greater, theyr understanding more clere, and theyr traditions, most, unsearchable.  Nothing remayned of Enoch but (and if it pleas your mastership) mowght haue byn carryed in a cart.  I can not bring you the brass, but I can shew you the bokes.  Slepe 28 dayes, and you shall fynde them under your pillow whan you do rise.

This passage establishes that Dee was indeed aware of the Book of Enoch, that he sought it as a potential source of the Angelic tongue, and that acquiring it was one of the many, many goals he pursued during his spirit workings.  This should not be taken as an argument that Dee saw such a task as any way a central concern of his conversations with spirits – I simply thought it would be an interesting addition to the discussion.


Published in: on July 17, 2012 at 5:36 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] Dan Harms has responded with an analysis of the place of the Book of Enoch in the renaissance and suggests that, yes, there […]

  2. Thanks again, Dan! And I do agree. The point about knowing of a “lost book” is very good I think, and the Necronomicon comparison strangely instructive.

  3. […] review, and my own response. Sarah Veale joined in with a post over at Invocatio, and today Dan responded once more on his blog. The debate has revolved around the Enoch figure, and the role of this figure in […]

  4. […] ‘Arguing about Arguing with Angels‘. Papers Falling from an Attic Window (Dan answers Sarah and me. This post was later updated […]

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