In the preface to his 1838 (3rd) edition, dated January 1838, Richard Laurence writes1 (emboldened text for emphasis):
Perhaps the following note in Hoffman’s preface will occasion a smile at the German idea of English Episcopal propriety; “According to a report which is however unauthenticated, the Author, now a Bishop of the English church, has stopt the sale of his work himselfa.” This remark is meant to account for the scarcity of the book in Germany, when the German translation appeared in 1833. But the fact is, that it was then out of print. In that very year, however, I published a Second edition, which I understand is also now out of print; and hearing that a very large order for more copies has been received from America, I have been induced now to print a Third. But I feel that my time of life and professional avocations prevent me from taking that advantage of Dr. Hoffman’s numerous and learned notes, which I otherwise should have certainly done, as well as from dedicating myself more devotedly to my former literary pursuits.
a: This is a note upon the following passage in the preface: “As Laurence’s English translation is scarce among the book-sellers, and can only be obtained for use from the most distinguished libraries of the Universities in this country, it will be the less objected to, that I have not only incorporated in my Commentary the short notes of this very meritorious writer upon Enoch, which occur under his translation, but also the more extended remarks, which follow it.”
So, while the book may have been difficult to come by in Germany, it did sell out its original printing before 1833, requiring another printing in 1833. That alone indicates that the book was in some significant distribution. The fact that sales in the U.S. of the 1833 edition were substantial leaves open the possibility that the 1821 edition also sold in the U.S. at more than insignificant levels.
In general, export of books from Britain to the US was very significant (as discussed by Gilreath, in American Book Distribution), and Botein in 1776 noted that “London booksellers relegated North America as a convenient dumping ground for books whose sales had slowed in London, thus making them too expensive to keep in inventory.” (quoting Gilreath). Oxford was close to London—perhaps by the late 1820s it was one of those titles being dumped on North America?
James Bruce translated the first 18 chapters
In the preliminary dissertation to his 1821 translation, on page ix, Laurence noted:
And I heard from them every thing, and I understood what I saw. —After this follows the history of the angels, of their having descended from heaven, and produced giants with the daughters of men; of their having instructed these in the arts of war and peace, and luxury. The names of the leading spirits are mentioned, which appear to be of Hebrew original, but corrupted by Greek pronunciation. The resolution of God to destroy them is then revealed to Enoch. These topics occupy about eighteen chapters, which Mr. Bruce had translated into English, but weary of the subject proceeded no further. …
No direct evidence to date
Nibley notes that the book was not found listed in Thomas Jefferson’s library which was continued until 1826. Regardless, finding a copy that existed or was listed to have existed before 1830 in the region Joseph lived (or even in the U.S.) would strengthen the case that Joseph had stumbled or found the book. Even without such a discovery, it is not unreasonable to believe that copies existed in the U.S. before 1830 based on extrapolation of the circumstantial evidence.
Other sources for ideas from book of Enoch
The Book of Enoch was being discussed in other sources (books published in London regularly made their way to the US).
- John Marten Butt. 1827. London. The Genuineness of the Book of Enoch Investigated
- John Overton. 1822. London. Inquire into the truth and use of the Book of Enoch as to its prophecies, visions, and account of fallen angels
The general points made in the 1838 commentary by Laurence were summarized by an anonymous author of the book “The Evolution of Christianity” in the introduction to the 1883 edition of Laurence’s Book of Enoch. After introducing the discovery of the Ethiopic versions by the famous James Bruce they wrote (emphasis added):
This priceless manuscript, destined, some day, to reveal the forgotten source of many Christian dogmas and mysteries, rested in Bodleian obscurity, until presented to the world through an English translation by Dr. Laurence, Archbishop of Cashel, formerly Professor of Hebrew at Oxford, who issued his first edition in 1821, in apparent unconsciousness that he was giving to mankind the theological fossils through which we, in the clearer light of our generation, may study the “Evolution of Christianity.” The scarcity of Archbishop Laurence’s translation, before the publication of the second edition in 1833, produced an impression in Germany that the work had been suppressed by its author; but this report is contradicted in the preface to the third edition, issued in 1838, in response to a large order from America. The Book of Enoch excited more interest on the Continent than in England. It was translated into German by Dr. Hoffman in 1838, into Latin by Gfrörer in 1840 …
The book was apparently scarce in mainland Europe, but given that its original printing had been exhausted by 1833, we can infer that, perhaps, more books were being sold in the U.S. ↩