On display through November at the Israel Museum, the exhibit Through Time and Space juxtaposes the outer-space diary of Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut who died in the 2003 Columbia disaster, with the oldest known text of the book of Enoch, a cosmological travelogue of a very different kind. Both manuscripts have dramatic stories of discovery and were reconstructed through painstaking work. Fragments of Ramon’s diary literally fell from the sky and were found in Florida; fragments of the book of Enoch, until then known only in translation, were collected from among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Reviewing the exhibit, Shai Secunda praises the diary’s “unadorned yet eloquent, almost literary” Hebrew, and describes the book of Enoch, one of several ancient works that take as their hero a character who receives a mere four verses in the fifth chapter of Genesis:
In the 3rd century BCE, Aramaic writings began to circulate that narrated the visions and teachings of Enoch who, although born of woman, had a place among God’s heavenly entourage and was privy to special knowledge, including the complex workings of the solar calendar. According to these texts, Enoch embarked on a number of heavenly journeys.
[In one such work], Enoch encounters a “wall built of hailstones; and tongues of fire were encircled them all around,” and then proceeds into a series of heavenly palaces, where he takes note of curious architectural features like snowy flooring and “a ceiling like shooting stars and lightning flashes.” [Then] he is treated to astounding sights, including “the place of the luminaries, and the treasuries of the stars and of the thunders, and the depths of the ether.” He sees heaven and hell, the mountain of the dead, and a gurgling paradise that recalls the Jordan River tributary where his interstellar journey began.
The Enochic writings present [their] hero as probing the cosmos in the service of humankind, not entirely unlike an astronaut testing scientific hypotheses in space for the people on earth below.