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There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God.
Because our inspiration comes from one heavenly Source, as a Baha’i I’ve always been fascinated by the ancient prophets, especially the ones mentioned in many scriptures and Faith traditions.
One of the most fascinating – Idris, also known as Enoch – is known by myriad other names in diverse historical settings. This mysterious figure has an intriguing narrative that sheds light on enigmatic past events.
Delving into the story of Idris can broaden our conceptual framework and perception of historical contexts, ancient cultures, and the various ways humanity has viewed and revered sacred figures. I’ve always been fascinated by how his many names stretch his reputation across several nations, and why he is respected and held sacred in all of them – but illustrated in different character types, ranks, and classifications.
Briefly speaking, Idris was a philosopher and a prophet recognized in all the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Baha’i Faith. Baha’u’llah mentioned him in the “Tablet of Wisdom:”
Indeed, he was a man of truth and a prophet … the first person who devoted himself to philosophy was Idris. Thus, was he named. Some called him also Hermes. In every tongue he hath a special name. He it is who hath set forth in every branch of philosophy thorough and convincing statements. After him Balinus derived his knowledge and sciences from the Hermetic Tablets and most of the philosophers who followed him made their philosophical and scientific discoveries from his words and statements .…
Idris is also known as the prophet Enoch, the seventh patriarch in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament, situated in his lineage between Adam and Noah. However, all this is just the tip of the mystery trail iceberg! In the Jewish-Muslim context, he is seen as a prophetic figure with two different names – but he is also known as Houshang, a king-seer in Persian traditions; as Thoth, an Egyptian god; and as Hermes Trismegistus, the legendary philosopher in early Greek civilization. Perhaps there are more names and contexts to Idris in the chronicles and records of other civilizations which historians have not yet discovered.
The fact that he is portrayed in a diverse array of character types and figurations makes him all the more interesting. In some circumstances he was most probably mythologized as a god; seen as a legendary figure; as a prophet; and also as an oracle, culture hero, sage, a mystic, magician, and more.
Since the Qur’an states that “In every tongue he hath a special name” then Idris was most likely manifest in yet unexplored divine passages of the Mesoamerican, African, and other continental prophetic books. This theory’s credibility is further augmented by an excerpt from the Qur’anic verse in the Surah an-Nisa:
Verily, we have inspired you (O Muhammad) as We inspired Nooh (Noah) and the Prophets after him; We (also) inspired Ibrahim (Abraham), Ismail (Ishmael), Ishaque (Isaac), Yaqoob (Jacob), and Al-Asbat (the twelve sons of Yaqoob (Jacob)), Iesa (Jesus), Ayub (Job), Yoonus (Jonah), Haroon (Aaron), and Sulaiman (Solomon), and to Dawood (David) We gave the Zaboor (Psalms). And Messengers We have mentioned to you before, and Messengers We have not mentioned to you, and to Moosa (Moses) Allah spoke directly.
Besides that, Idris is also known for his elevated level of knowledge, wisdom, and erudition.
Studying this mysterious figure from antiquity can imbue us with a stark paradigm shift regarding the messengers of God, and alter how they’re perceived in the multitude of contexts of several divine scriptures spanning across many nations and cultures.
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Personally, I used to get caught up in the semantics. I had a narrow-minded perspective on sacred figures based on the Semitic perspective in the Middle East, mainly with an Islamic background. To me either these figures were prophets or non-prophets, a black or white mentality. Anything else was seen as either mythology or a legend.
But the historical narrative of Idris shows that different cultures have different terms and perceptions for their prophets and divine figures. In the end they’re all united, but individually they exhibit rich and multifaceted personalities and perspectives. Therefore, words such as seers, oracles, and sages may at times be interchangeable and synonymous with familiar terms such as prophet, messenger, etc., depending on the cultural context they come from.
For me, this discovery has evoked a new dimension to one of the core Baha’i principles, the oneness of religion. That paradigm shift has widened my conceptual framework on this very principle, thereby helping me correlate and find coherence with pertinent Baha’i concepts such as the universality of God’s Faith.