The Most Important Biblical Character You’ve Probably Never Heard of squib

William Blake/Public Domain

If I asked you to name the Christian Bible’s most important characters—the people who helped shape the world today—chances are that you’d reply “Abraham,” “Moses,” or “Jesus.” If you were making a top ten or even a top twenty list you might add the Mary the Mother of Jesus, King David, Paul of Tarsus, a sprinkling of the Twelve Disciples, Adam and Eve, or Elijah. These are major figures in history and tradition, the ones that artists have chosen to memorialize. It might come as some surprise, therefore, to learn that one of the most influential people in the Bible is only mentioned in four verses and that his story is more a missing person case than a biography.

Tucked among a long list of brief mad-lib style genealogies in Genesis 5 (name, offspring, and age) is the case of Enoch. Genesis 5:21-24 tells us that he was the father of Methuselah, was a good person who “walked with God” for 365 years, and that “then,” one day, “he was no more, because God took him.” When someone is snatched by the ruler of the universe, people tend not to send out a search party, so this is all that the Hebrew Bible has to tell us. But the enigmatic conclusion of his life left people wondering.

Throughout history there have been certain missing person cases that just capture people’s imagination. The fates of Amelia Earhart, Anastasia Romanov, Jimmy Hoffa, and the Lindbergh Baby have generated conspiracy theories, made-for-tv movies, Broadway productions, and treasure hunts. Enoch is one of these individuals. Hundreds of years after the writing of Genesis 5, later generations of Jewish authors began writing stories in his name. Though they are not in either the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) or the Christian Bible, they are as influential on religious history as any canonical text.

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