Professor Matthew Black and his wife Ethel came to Provo at the beginning of BYU’s Summer Term of 1977. He lectured twice—on Thursday, June 30, and on Friday, July 1. The titles of his topics were “The Enoch Legend and the Dead Sea Scrolls” and “The Parables of Enoch.” I do not recall how I learned that he and his wife were spending a sabbatical year at the Institute for Advanced Study (located in Princeton, New Jersey), away from St. Andrews University in Scotland. But his schedule allowed him to accept an invitation to speak at BYU. An earlier conversation with Gordon Thomasson, who was a graduate student at Cornell University, tipped off Dr. Black about Latter-day Saint interest in Enoch as an important ancient character and surely created a doorway through which he walked when he accepted my invitation to him and his wife to come to Provo.
Prior to the visit, I had sent to Professor Black photocopies of the pages in Pearl of Great Price that I thought would arouse his interest. I think it was the whole of the Book of Moses and there might have been a couple of things out of Abraham. I told Brother Nibley that I shipped off these pages from the Pearl of Great Price. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Hugh also sent something from the Book of Moses to Dr. Black in advance of his trip to Provo. It is apparent that Gordon Thomasson or Hugh Nibley had supplied him with something in addition to the photocopied pages that I sent to him.
At the time I was the director of Ancient Studies which was part of the Religious Studies Center on campus. That meant that I had access to funds that, with permission, I could spend to bring special guests to speak on topics that others and I judged to be of interest to the campus and wider communities. Professor Black certainly fit within what we were looking for.
In the invitation, I asked, "Would you be willing to come to BYU?" We set a date during summer term when almost nobody would typically be on campus. You have to remember that he had been lecturing to these little groups of people up and down the East Coast in the United States. He and his wife came, wonderful people to host, I must say. She was a peach of a woman. My wife asked her, “How do you survive in Scottish cold?” and she replied, "We just put on another wooly.” That was her response, “We put on another wooly.”
We got an announcement into the BYU newspaper, The Universe. We put something into the Daily Herald, the Provo newspaper. We wrote that this fellow was going to be talking about Enoch. We arranged for the event to take place the little theater inside the Wilkinson Center on the BYU campus, which seats just over 100 people. I recall standing outside the doorway after I had introduced Dr. Black so that I was not taking up a seat where someone else could sit. In hindsight, we should have put the lectures in a bigger room, but we had no idea that almost 150 people would show up for an event to be held in a room that seated just over 100 listeners.
An hour before his lecture, the place was almost full. There were people not only from BYU but also from the community who came, and there was an overflow crowd in this space inside the little theater. We ended up with people sitting in the aisles, crowding around the two doorways on either side to listen to our guest. He had never talked to this kind of crowd before, people who had intense interest in what he was talking about. He had some wonderful questions, of course, during the time.
It is certainly possible that Hugh met with Black sometime prior to the campus concert that the Nibleys and Blacks attended together, as Nibley wrote. I don’t recall exactly how long Dr. Black and his wife were in town, but we did not schedule every hour of their visit. If we did things as usual, he and his wife would have also come to our home one evening to join with a few faculty members and spouses. I wanted our visitors to meet the wives of faculty members and gain a clear sense that Latter-day Saint women were of high ability and character. Hugh and his wife Phyllis would have been present. They always were. But I do not recall anything about the evening conversation.
A very enterprising secretary had found four tickets to the campus concert, and these were given to Hugh and Phyllis Nibley. They arranged to take Matthew and Ethel Black to the concert. The intermission came and, of course, Hugh was not going to let this opportunity pass. Hugh knew that Matthew Black had translated the Book of Giants, an ancient Aramaic book of about Enoch, that contained a name similar to Mahujah/Mahijah in the Book of Moses. Nibley turned to him during the intermission and said, “Well, what about Mahijah/Mahujah?” Professor Black said something like, “It needs further study,” which is the way he took the noose off his neck so that he wasn’t in trouble. Others may have remembered Hugh’s words differently as they occurred during this or another conversation. And the conversation must have been much longer than a brief question about the names and an equally brief response from Dr. Black. Hugh may have repeated different parts of the conversation to different people, including in his letter.
Overall, it was a wonderful visit. Professor Black surely learned that Latter-day Saints are interested in ancient things. I think maybe we exchanged letters once after that before he and his wife went back to Scotland.
As an added note, others at the BYU Jerusalem Center may have done as I have done with students when we visited Qumran. I would meet them after the tour of the ruins on the south end of the site where there is a little bowery with benches. From there, one can look across a very deep gully at the entry to Cave 4. I would tell the students that out of that hole came fragmentary manuscripts of the book of Enoch that had in them the name Mahijah/Mahujah, a name that was unknown in the modern world until Joseph Smith produced the Book of Moses and thereafter was certified by its discovery more than a hundred years later in some tattered manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls.