Enosh (not to be confused with Enoch) was born in the year 235 from creation (3526 BCE). His father’s name was Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. He was given the name Enosh, which means “person” or “people,” because it was around that time that the world began to be more heavily inhabited by people. He lived a total of 905 years, and died in the year 1140 from creation (2621 BCE).
There is very little mention made of Enosh in the Torah, and most of what we know about him and his times is from Midrashic and Talmudic sources.
Here’s what the Torah itself has to say about Enosh. Mind you, the description is rather ambiguous and leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
“And to Seth also a son was born, and he named him Enosh; then huchal to call by the name of the L-rd.”
Note that the word huchal has been left untranslated. That was done deliberately, because it is not entirely clear what the word means. Many different interpretations have been offered; naturally, the Torah narrative will vary based on the different interpretations.
These are a number of commentaries offered on this verse:
Rashi: Huchal comes from the Hebrew word chol, which means “profaned.”
“Then it became profaned to call by the name of the L-rd.”
In the times of Enosh, people began associating the name of G-d with things other than G-d, namely idols and other people (more on this later). As a result, the name of G-d became profaned.
Ibn Ezra: Huchal comes from the Hebrew word hischil, which means “to begin.”
“Then people began to call in the name of the L-rd.”
It was in the times of Enosh that people began engaging in the practice of prayer, calling out to the name of G-d.
Previously, people did not believe that prayer was effective; if G-d had made up His mind, there was no way that it could change. This changed in the times of Enosh, and people began to pray to G-d.
Sforno: While huchal means begin, it has a negative connotation.
“Then (the righteous) began to preach in the name of the L-rd.”
Until the times of Enosh, there was no need to preach about G-d; everyone was already aware of His presence and power. It was in his times that this knowledge diminished, and it became necessary for those in the know to preach about His existence.
That’s it as far as the Torah record goes. From here on is the Midrashic tradition.
The Roots of Idolatry
Although the straight reading of the verse is open to interpretation, the Midrashic tradition is pretty emphatic: Idolatry began in the times of Enosh.
Maimonides, in his introduction to the laws concerning idolatry, details the history of idolatrous thought and practise:
During the times of Enosh, mankind made a great mistake, and the wise men of that generation gave thoughtless counsel. Enosh himself was one of those who erred.
Their mistake was as follows: They said that G-d created stars and spheres with which to control the world. He placed them on high and treated them with honor, making them servants who minister before Him. Accordingly, it is fitting to praise and glorify them and to treat them with honor. [They perceived] this to be the will of G-d, Blessed be He, that they magnify and honor those whom He magnified and honored, just as a kinG-desires that the servants who stand before him be honored. Indeed, doing so is an expression of honor to the king.
After conceiving of this notion, they began to construct temples to the stars and offer sacrifices to them. They would praise and glorify them with words, and prostrate themselves before them, because by doing so they would—according to their false conception—be fulfilling the will of G-d.
This was the essence of the worship of false gods, and this was the rationale of those who worshipped them. They would not say that there is no other god except for this star.
Ironically, idolatry originally had holy intentions; people thought that such practices were actually honoring G-d. Maimonides continues to describe how these mistakes led to all-out idol worship, and how the existence of G-d was completely forgotten from the earth, save for a few righteous individuals.
Was Enosh himself a part of this movement, or was it merely the people of his times?
Although Maimonides says he was, other commentators disagree. They cite the following Midrash to support their claim:
Until this point (the birth of Adam, Seth and Enosh), man was created in the image and form of G-d. From this point on, the generations became corrupt and were created deformed.
It seems from this Midrash that Enosh himself was one of the good ones, ranking with Adam and Seth.
More on His Era
There are scattered references in Midrashic sources which give us a glimpse into the goings-on of the times. Here’s one of the more fascinating accounts:
The generation of Enosh approached him and asked, “What is the name of your father?” to which he responded, “Seth.” “The name of your grandfather?” “Adam.” “And what was Adam’s father’s name?” they asked. “He had no father,” Enosh explained. “G-d created his form from the earth and then blew into his nostrils a living soul.”
They said to Enosh, “Demonstrate how it was done.”
Enosh then took a handful of dirt and formed the image of a man, and the evil spirit entered into his nostrils and he became alive. The people declared this being as their god, and they believed in it.
Aside for clearly portraying Enosh as the ringleader, this Midrash gives us insight into the extent to which their practices and beliefs went. They created an outright golem, which they viewed and treated as a god! The results of their actions were forthcoming. The Midrash relates:
Four things changed in the times of Enosh: (a) the mountains became rocky, (b) the deceased began to rot, (c) people’s faces became similar to those of apes, and (d) people became susceptible to demons.”
Witchcraft and sorcery became widespread as well in his times. We are told that even young children were well trained in occult practices, and that when the time came for Noah’s flood, the people did not heed Noah’s warnings because of the trust they had in their magical powers.
The Not-So-Well-Known Great Flood
Most people are aware of the Great Flood that took place in the times of Noah, in the year 1656 from creation (2016 BCE). That wasn’t the first Great Flood in history; it was preceded by a Pretty-Great Flood in the times of Enosh.
As a punishment for the sins of the generation, G-d had the sea overflow and flood a third of the inhabited world. The Midrash sees this punishment as being tit-for-tat, in direct response to their idolatrous behavior:
You have made a new creation and have called it by My name; I too will create something new (the floodwaters) and call it by My name. This is the meaning of the verse (Amos 5:8), “He Who calls the water of the sea and pours it out on the face of the earth, the L-rd is His Name.”
How big was this flood? A number of opinions are recorded, all in the name of R. Chanina:
R. Yudan, R. Abahu and R. Elazar received from R. Chanina: until Acco and Jaffa;
R. Chaninah and R. Acha received from R. Chanina: until the Barbary Coast;
R. Elazar received from R. Chanina: until Calabria.
This drastic event did not do much to hinder the advances of the idolatry movement, and the world continued in steady decline. Terrible famine is said to have spread in those times, as the earth became less and less fertile as a punishment for their sins. (It wasn’t until the times of Noah, who was born in the year 1056 from creation (2705 BCE), that the plough was first invented, which significantly eased the farming process.)
In summary, the times of Enosh are not depicted in the most positive of lights, and Enosh himself is seen as being the catalyst for these negative developments.