“He Taught Me in His Language”

Brant Gardner

Our initial information about Enos comes from Jacob’ s declaration that Enos is his son and heir, designated to receive, preserve, and write on the plates according to Nephi’s desires (Jacob 7:27). Neither this declaration nor Enos’s short personal introduction tells us much about him. We do not know when he was born, how old he was when he received the plates, nor when Jacob died.

Chronology: The next specific date is just prior to Enos’s death where he notes that 179 years have passed since Lehi’s departure from Jerusalem (Enos 1:25). In other words, from the time of Nephi’s death until Enos’s death (presuming it came soon after his closing message), only two writers on the small plates encompassed 124 years between them. This span of time requires advanced ages for both Jacob and Enos, perhaps eighty-seven years apiece. That is a venerable age for the ancient world, but Nephi lived into his seventies; these ages would not be impossible, though remarkable. (Of course, moving Jacob’s probable date of birth to a later year shortens this span; see commentary accompanying 1 Nephi 18:7.)

It seems, given the chronological problems, that Enos may have been fairly young at his father’s death. He heard and accepted Jacob’s instructions about writing on the plates, but these instructions did not acquire urgency until later in Enos’s life—hence the transformational experience he describes in this chapter.

Culture: It is curious that Enos explains that his father taught him in the language of his father and in the ways of the Lord. We can readily understand the second idea, for we also strive to teach our children the ways of the Lord. What is less clear is why Jacob would have to teach Enos his “language.” Nephi stated that he has been “taught somewhat in all the learning of my father.… The language of my father… consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” (1 Ne. 1:1–2). While this seems to be a parallel statement, the difference is that Enos specifically mentions being taught the language where Nephi writes in the “language of my father.”

I suggest that Enos is literally speaking about learning Jacob’s language. Obviously, he is not talking simply about the unconscious way in which all toddlers absorb grammar and vocabulary from their parents. One possible reason for this statement is to indicate that Jacob taught him the language of the Old World (Hebrew) because the Nephites are now speaking a different language. This interpretation is appropriate, even likely, given the Nephites’ linguistic adaptation to a new location. But a second and more likely meaning is that Jacob taught Enos the writing system (Egyptian) that he would need for his record on the plates. Regardless of the spoken language, the plates require a specific script and vocabulary, modeled after the brass plates.

Variant: For this variant it is best to quote Skousen directly: “The typesetter for the 1911 LDS edition accidentally set ‘he was just a man’ [instead of “he was a just man”], one of the more amusing typos in the history of the text—and obviously wrong. This error in the 1911 LDS edition was corrected in the subsequent LDS edition (1920).”

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3