The Name Zenos: Ancient Origin and Meaning

John's Vision of the "Son of Man" (Revelation 1:13)

This week, for Come, Follow Me, we are studying Jacob 5–7, the largest portion of which is the well-known Allegory of the Olive Tree, a lengthy quotation from the lost prophet Zenos. Zenos, along with a couple of other lost prophets mentioned in passing in the Book of Mormon, is somewhat of an enigmatic and mysterious prophet. He was evidently an ancestor to the Nephites (3 Nephi 10:16–17), which suggests that he was a prophet from the tribe of Manasseh in northern Israel. He was also reportedly martyred (Helaman 8:19). Other than the Allegory in Jacob 5, we only have brief summaries or snippets of his prophetic sayings, most of which are Messianic in nature (see 1 Nephi 19:10, 12; Alma 33:3–13; 34:7; Helaman 15:11).[1] And that is pretty much everything we know about Zenos.

One possible avenue for learning a little more about Zenos is to explore the origin and meaning of his name. This is not something that can be known with certainty, but scholars have put forth some pretty interesting and instructive possibilities.

The earliest proposal (of which I am aware) for the name Zenos, was Hugh Nibley, who drew parallels between Zenos in the Book of Mormon and Cenez in the early Jewish text Biblical Antiquities of Philo. Despite attribution to Philo (a 1st century BC Jew), this text is actually believed to be from an unknown writer from around the time of Christ, typically called pseudo-Philo. In some manuscripts, the name Cenez is spelled backwards as Zenec, while others have the variant name Zenez. These variant forms of the name make it close to both Zenock and Zenos in the Book of Mormon, but since Cenez gives a discourse about the Lord toiling in a “great vineyard” in which he planted a choice plant, Nibley linked the figure to Zenos specifically.[2]

As interesting as these parallels are, however, others have argued against a direct relationship between Zenos and Cenez, and the two names are probably not related.[3] So what are the alternative possibilities for the name Zenos? The Book of Mormon Onomasticon entry provides a couple of options (in addition to mentioning Nibley’s Cenez/Zenez proposal), neither of which I find terribly compelling. To me, it seems most likely that the name is a combination of a prefix Z(e) and the name Enos, another name attested in the Book of Mormon.

If the name is, indeed, Z(e) + Enos, there are two potential interpretations for the Z(e) prefix. One is the Hebrew zeh- prefix, meaning “he of” that scholars have proposed for other Book of Mormon names like Zeezrom (“he of the erzrom”) and Zenephi (“he of Nephi”). Thus, Zenos would mean “he of Enos.”

An alternative possibility, which yields a similar meaning, was recently proposed by linguist Eve Koller. She proposed that the Z(e) prefix in Book of Mormon names could be the Egyptian name element z3 or s3.[4] This is the same prefix likely in the name Zeptah, which appears in the pre-publication Book of Abraham manuscripts and is attested in Egyptian inscriptions. It means “son of” or “descendant of.” Thus, if this is correct, Zenos would mean “son of Enos.” Zenos would probably be so named because he had an ancestor named Enos.

This meaning becomes even more interesting when we consider the meaning of the name Enos, which is most likely the Hebrew enoš, meaning “man.” Thus, an etymology of z3-Enos, “son of Enos,” would ultimately mean “son of man.”[5] As many are probably already aware, “Son of Man” is a Messianic title used in scripture to refer to Jesus Christ (although, it should be acknowledged that the Hebrew form of this title is ben adam, not zeh enos or z3 enos).

I stress, again, that this is only a possibility to consider, and even if correct, the name was likely intended as a reference to his father or another ancestor named Enos, and not as an (intentional) allusion to the Messianic title. But if we view Zenos—who was “slain” for his prophecies about “the Son” (Helaman 8:19)—as an archtype for the Messiah, then it is interesting to consider the possibility that he carried an allusion to the Messianic title “Son of Man” in his very name.

Update 3-19-2020: Gotta give credit where credit is due: another blogger has mentioned in the comments section that they made a similar observation over at Book of Mormon Notes two months ago. So go check out their post as well.

Update 3-22-2020: Matthew L. Bowen, “I Have Done According to My Will”: Reading Jacob 5 as a Temple Text, in The Temple: Ancient and Restored, ed.  Stephen D. Ricks and Donald W. Parry (Salt Lake City and Orem, UT: Eborn Books and Interpreter Foundation, 2016), 264265 n.46 actually proposes the zeh + Enos etymology, and suggests that the name could have duel meaning as both a reference to an actual ancestor named Enos but also as a reference to a theophoric title for God. Bowen compares this to the Abner, son of Ner, whose name literally means Father is Ner, but can also be Father is light, referring to God. Bowen suggests that Jacob 5:3, which describes the house of Israel as an olive tree which a man [enoš] took and nourished in his vineyard.



[1] It is possible these sayings were merely interpreted as being Messianic by the Nephites—since we lack the broader context in which each of those statements were made, we don’t know exactly what their original context and meaning may have been. It is noteworthy that the only extensive text from Zenos we have (Jacob 5) is less explicitly Messianic, although it has a figure (the servant) who could be interpreted as representing the Messiah.
[2] Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 286–290.
[3] See John W. Welch, “The Last Words of Cenez and the Book of Mormon,” in The Allegory of the Olive Tree: The Olive, the Bible, and Jacob 5, ed. Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994), 305–321.
[4] See Eve Koller, “An Egyptian Linguistic Component in Book of Mormon Names,” BYU Studies Quarterly 57, no. 4 (2018):  139–148.
[5] The Hebrew zeh-Enos, “he of Enos,” would also be, effectively, “son of Enos,” since a person is most likely so named because they have a father, or another ancestor, named Enos. But as Koller (p. 143) points out, z3 is more explicitly referring to a descendant of another person.

Comments

  1. Okay since a bit of speculation is allowed here how about this: Given the prophecy of Zenos of the 3 Nephi destruction here are some more ideas.
    In Hebrew the first part may be parallel with zeh “he of Sinai”. The name Enosh is found in the Bible and some scholars indicate that it may have derived from ‘esh meaning “fire”. It is possible BOM names may have multiple meanings.
    So to go a bit further the name can be constructed from Sumerian. Ze means “earth” e means “to remove” na means “stone” u means “earthpile” us means “to thresh by
    treading”

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  2. Wow, I wrote a blog post a couple of months ago, suggesting the exact same thing: https://bofmnotes.blogspot.com/2020/01/a-possible-meaning-of-name-zenos.html. Glad to see that someone independently has been thinking the same.

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    Replies
    1. Indeed, it seems you did indeed beat me to the punch on this one! And thanks for sharing your blog with me. Looks like you and your co-bloggers have been cranking out quite a bit over the last few months. Look forward exploring it a bit more when I get a chance.

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    2. It's a friend and me sharing our notes as we study. We are both amateurs and Book of Mormon nerds. You didn't have to credit me but thanks nonetheless.

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  3. I have a Greek friend whose last name is Xenos...pronounced zenos. Not of Hebrew origin. Probably not related...but who knows?

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