By Karin Childs
Libraries have long been considered precious treasures of human society. From ancient times, archives or libraries have served to preserve knowledge—whether on clay tablets, papyrus, or paper—and pass it from one generation, century, or millennium to another. The earliest written collections seemed to have been for the sake of conserving a nation’s own heritage. But in the second through fourth centuries BC, major efforts arose in both Eastern and Western civilizations to preserve a wider supply of knowledge. People like Aristotle in Greece and members of the Han Dynasty in China felt called to collect a wide array of literature and to categorize books for the sake of research and education.
All along, wars and power struggles caused the destruction of libraries and resulted in the tragic loss of information. And yet the number of libraries continued to increase worldwide, along with a universal respect for libraries as a valuable resource for knowledge.
In the nineteenth century, the concept of the “Akashic records”—a collection of knowledge that exists in some permanent form in the astral or spiritual world—arose. Since libraries, books, and even our modern day digital information storage methods are physical and vulnerable to being destroyed, it can be comforting to think that there is a way for all knowledge to be preserved, no matter what happens on earth.
Did Swedenborg support this idea of a spiritual set of archives? I would say that he did. Besides reporting that the story of our own lives is being permanently recorded in our inner memory, Swedenborg saw actual libraries in the afterlife; and those libraries contained knowledge from very ancient times. In his journal of spiritual experiences, he writes about a library in heaven:
It was said that they have [in the library] very many things from the ancients regarding correspondences, and explanations of the Word through its inner meaning. Still more deeply within, there were books written for the most ancient, from whom the community called Enoch had collected the correspondences that were afterwards of service to those who were in succeeding Churches, which will be called the ancient Churches. (Spiritual Experiences §5999)
Swedenborg has more to say about Enoch, an intriguing character who appears in a genealogy in Genesis and who seems to have been given a special ability from God to avoid death. While every other character in the genealogy is said to have “lived” and then “died,” Enoch is said to have had a different fate:
Thus all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him. (Genesis 5:23–24)
According to Swedenborg, all of the names in the Bible are symbolic of inner states of mind, and they are sometimes also symbolic of whole groups of people in history who shared a general state of mind. In the case of the name Enoch in this genealogy, a general state of mind also meant a shared role or function. As the earliest church was declining due to corruption, the God-given, human ability to perceive truth directly through observing nature was in danger of disappearing. So in order to preserve this knowledge for the future, the group of people meant by Enoch, perhaps led by an actual person of that name, took on the task of cataloging and recording the knowledge of correspondences for posterity.
I have been taught that the people of the earliest church, the one that existed before the Flood, were so heavenly in nature that they talked with angels of heaven, and that they were able to talk with them in correspondences. This meant that their wisdom developed to the point that when they saw anything on earth, they not only thought of it in earthly terms but thought of it in spiritual terms at the same time, and therefore their thoughts joined those of angels. I have also been taught that Enoch . . . and others who joined him collected correspondences from the mouth of these [sages] and passed their knowledge on to their descendants. (Sacred Scripture §21 [see also True Christianity §202])
Swedenborg writes that this system of correspondences was later used by ancient church cultures in the Middle East and then spread to Greece and beyond, turning into the stories of myth and fable.
But what about this mysterious statement about God “taking” Enoch, rather than a statement that Enoch eventually died, like the rest of the characters? While the life cycles of the other characters in the Genesis 5 genealogy represent particular doctrinal beliefs or religious mindsets that arose and then died out, Enoch represents doctrinal knowledge that had to be preserved.
There were at that time people who developed a theology out of the things perceived by the earliest church and the churches that followed. They designed it to serve as a standard by which everyone could judge what was good and true. The people who did this were called Enoch, and what they did was symbolized by the words and Enoch walked with God. They also used the name for the theology or set of teachings itself, which is what the name Enoch—“teach”—means. (Secrets of Heaven §519:1)
It was important that this knowledge would not die out, as earlier knowledge had. But this did not mean the preservation of literal written scripture, because no such thing existed at that time. Rather, it meant the preservation of a system of recognizing truth through symbolism, a system that had been intuitive but that was now disappearing.
[Enoch] was no more, because God took him, means that this doctrine was preserved for use by future generations. The case with Enoch was that, as stated [§519:1], he took what the earliest church perceived and reduced it to a doctrinal system—a forbidden thing at that time. Recognizing from perception, after all, is completely different than learning from doctrine. People who have the gift of perception have no need to learn by way of doctrinal formulas what they already know. To illustrate: when we already know how to think effectively, we do not need an artificial system to teach us how. Using such a system would destroy our ability to think effectively, as it does for those who wallow in scholarly dust. People who recognize what is good and true on the basis of perception receive that intuition from the Lord by an internal route. Those who recognize it on the basis of doctrine receive their knowledge by an external route—the physical senses. The difference is like that between light and darkness. Furthermore, the perceptions of a heavenly type of person can never be described, because they involve the tiniest, most specific details and take into account all the variety of different conditions and circumstances. It was foreseen, however, that the perceptiveness of the earliest church would come to an end, and that people thereafter would learn from doctrine how to identify truth and goodness; in other words, they would travel through the dark to arrive at light. In consequence, it says here that “God took him,” which is to say that God preserved perception for the use of future generations. (Secrets of Heaven §521)
Swedenborg explains that “perception”—the original learning method that God created for humanity—is far superior to the learning method that we experience today. Perception receives truth from within, through intuition coming directly from God, and then applies those insights to outer circumstances and actions. But as corruption gradually opened humanity’s minds and hearts to hellish influences, that intuition became dangerously false. To keep the human race from destroying itself, God had to close off this inner perception and provide a new method of learning truth. Learning from the outside in, through studying collected information, was not ideal, but it could still lead people to enough knowledge about God and the spiritual life that they would be able to spiritually progress. And the group called “Enoch” were the ones infused with a desire and ability to take knowledge that used to be intuitive and craft it into the beginnings of an outward educational system.
The Book of Enoch is an ancient Jewish religious work estimated to have been written in sections spanning from about 300 BC to perhaps even the second century AD. It was accepted in early Christian churches, but was later excluded from the biblical canon. The Book of Enoch was traditionally attributed to the character of Enoch in Genesis 5, and the highly dramatic and symbolic stories make me wonder if this work has its original roots in the “Ancient Word” that, according to Swedenborg, preceded our current Old Testament. That Ancient Word, says Swedenborg, was written entirely in highly symbolic, divine allegory or parable. It’s fascinating to read The Book of Enoch while thinking in terms of a group of people who were gathering information not for their present corrupt times, but for a future time:
The word of the blessing of Enoch, how he blessed the elect and the righteous, who were to exist in the time of trouble; rejecting all the wicked and ungodly. Enoch, a righteous man, who was with God, answered and spoke, while his eyes were open, and while he saw a holy vision in the heavens. This the angels showed me. From them I heard all things, and understood what I saw; that which will not take place in this generation, but in a generation which is to succeed at a distant period, on account of the elect.
Before all these things Enoch was concealed; nor did any one of the sons of men know where he was concealed, where he had been, and what had happened. He was wholly engaged with the holy ones, and with the Watchers in his days. I, Enoch, was blessing the great Lord and King of peace. And behold the Watchers called me Enoch the scribe.
Likewise, in the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, a western translation of the Torah, this idea of Enoch’s scribal character is maintained:
The prominent scribal office of the seventh antediluvian hero was not forgotten in the later rabbinic and Hekhalot developments and reappeared in its new Merkabah form as an important duty of the new hero, the supreme angel Metatron. One of the possible early attestations to the scribal career of Enoch-Metatron can be found in the Targums, where the patriarch’s name is mentioned in connection with the scribal duties of the principal angel. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Genesis 5:24 reads: “Enoch worshiped in truth before the Lord, and behold he was not with the inhabitants of the earth because he was taken away and he ascended to the firmament at the command of the Lord, and he was called Metatron, the Great Scribe.”
We could perhaps say that the people represented by Enoch were the very first librarians—called, like Aristotle and members of the Han Dynasty, to collect and preserve knowledge. While their method of preservation most likely did not start out in written form but was one of oral tradition and/or visual imagery, they developed a way that knowledge could be gathered and made available to people who could not learn directly from heaven through their own minds. Knowledge could now be learned from the outside and absorbed into the intellect where it could take root and grow. It was not the ideal method that God had set up, but nevertheless a crucial new method that would allow human beings to still learn about and connect with God and heaven, if they so chose.
Karin Childs is a writer and host for Swedenborg & Life.
Related Post: Read more about libraries, learning, and stories in heaven in our recap of the Swedenborg & Life episode “Where Stories Are Kept in Heaven.”
 From The Book of Enoch the Prophet, chapter 1, verses 1–2, page 1.
 Ibid., chapter 12, verses 1–4, page 14.
 See Andrei A. Orlov’s “Metatron as the Scribe.”
The Book of Enoch the Prophet. Translated from an Ethiopic MS. in the Bodleian Library by the Late Richard Laurence. London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1883.
Encyclopædia Britannica, at https://www.britannica.com/.
Orlov, Andrei A. “Metatron as the Scribe,” at https://www.marquette.edu/maqom/metatronscribe.html.