/ Bible / A Layman’s Introduction to the Book of Enoch

A Layman’s Introduction to the Book of Enoch

Craig Smith on May 10, 2014 - 9:56 am in Bible, Bible, Cults, Gnosticism

In the past few years, interest in the Book of Enoch (also called Enoch and 1 Enoch) has experienced something of a revival.  It is referenced in numerous popular fiction works that make use of the Nephilim and is even quoted in what appears to be an authoritative way by some supposedly Christian teachers like John Hagee.  Hagee has recently gained the public spotlight again by claiming that the 2014-2015 lunar tetrad[1] is indicative of the coming rapture and, to make this argument he relies, in part, on references in the Book of Enoch.

While most Christians are probably unaware that the Book of Enoch even exists, some will know that it appears to be quoted in the biblical book of Jude and may have been referenced in 2 Peter (and possibly in 1 Peter as well, though this seems less plausible to me). 

Does Enoch’s appearance in Jude and 2 Peter make it authoritative?  Does its use by end-times teachers today suggest that it is trustworthy and that it would be advantageous for Christians to familiarize themselves with its contents? 

If you just want the bottom line, then the answer to both of these questions is a solid “no.”  But if you want to understand exactly what this book is, where it came from and how it should be viewed relative the Bible, read on.  I’ve assembled a short Layman’s Introduction to Enoch here that may allow you to engage someone who has heard about Enoch and has questions.

Enoch the man and the Book of Enoch

Enoch belongs to a category of ancient literature called pseudepigrapha, a term meaning “false writings” in reference to the fact that these books were attributed to authors who were not actually involved in their composition.  Typically, such books were attributed to famous or otherwise credible figures in order to legitimize their unorthodox contents.  For example, in the centuries following the New Testament era, various heretical – often Gnostic – texts were falsely attributed to key individuals such as Peter, Thomas, Mary, etc.  Enoch, though largely written some time before these New Testament-era pseudepigrapha, falls into the same category in that is has been falsely attributed to an important Old Testament figure, Enoch.[2]

The character to whom the Book of Enoch is attributed is the child of Adam’s third named son,[3] Seth. He is described briefly in Genesis 5[4]with one particularly noteworthy detail:

18 Jared lived one hundred and sixty-two years, and became the father of Enoch.  19 Then Jared lived eight hundred years after he became the father of Enoch, and he had other sons and daughters.  20 So all the days of Jared were nine hundred and sixty-two years, and he died.  21 Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah.  22 Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters.  23 So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years.  24 Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.(Genesis 5:18-24)  

It should be understood that the primary emphasis in this passage is on the righteous character of Enoch; that is, Enoch “walked with God”, a description used twice of him in this short description.  This is the same description that is applied to Noah in the next chapter (Genesis 6:9).  Because of this character quality which almost certainly refers to righteousness that comes from knowing God, both Noah and Enoch were rescued from destruction.  In Noah’s case, this destruction took the form of the Flood from which God saved him and his family.  In Enoch’s case, the destruction in view is that of death itself. The enigmatic phrase “and he was not, for God took him” has traditionally been understood to mean that Enoch did not physically die,[5] but rather was transported physically,[6] somehow, into heaven before his death.  As one might imagine, for this reason, Enoch has always been viewed with some awe and it is likely that this reverence is what caused the character of Enoch to take on considerable significance for the ancient Hebrews.  Over time, Enoch became a popular figure associated with apocalyptic prophecy[7] as evidenced by the Book of Enoch itself.  It is not entirely clear precisely when he became such a popular figure in the Jewish imagination, but certainly this process was well underway by the middle of the Intertestamental period (roughly the 2nd century B.C.) when the Book of Enoch was likely composed.

Contrary to some completely unsubstantiated assertions by non-scholars that the Book of Enoch was composed in 1500 B.C.,[8] it appears to have been composed of material written between the early Intertestamental period (roughly 400 B.C. – 250 B.C.) and the mid/late N.T. era (late 1st century A.D.), long after Enoch “was no more”. Certainly there is no biblical evidence that Enoch wrote anything before his mysterious departure and there is no evidence of anything being attributed to him prior to the mid 3rd century B.C.  Most Enoch scholars are convinced that the various portions which make up the Book of Enoch were actually the work of several authors brought together by later compilers.[9] In other words, the book is clearly pseudepigrapha and, as such, is immediately suspect.  In cases such as this, the false attribution of a book to a credible historical figure is a transparent attempt to garner trust…the very thing which is completely lost the moment this deception is recognized.  If the authors of such texts are lying about who wrote them, then why should we trust what they put in the texts themselves? 

The original text of the Book of Enoch

Enoch survives primarily in an Ethiopian version which appears to be a translation of a Greek version[10]  that is no longer extant in its entirety, though substantial portions (roughly a third) of the Greek text have been recovered.  Aramaic fragments of Enoch have been discovered in Cave 4[11] at Qumran (i.e. the Dead Sea Scrolls), though the Aramaic texts amount to no more than 5% of the Ethiopic text.[12]  Some scholars think that these Aramaic fragments themselves may have been translated from an original Hebrew text[13] though this is by no means certain.

As mentioned above, contrary to popular claims that the Book of Enoch dates to 1500 B.C., there is no real evidence for the existence of Enoch prior to the 2nd Century B.C., the date generally assigned to the oldest portions of the Aramaic fragments recovered at Qumran.[14]

Structure

The Ethiopic version, which is the only full text we possess, consists of five ‘books’, a typical Hebrew arrangement following the model of the five books of Moses.  The five ‘books’ are as follows:

The Book of the Watchers (chapters 1-36)

This section is primarily concerned with God’s judgment on the angels (called Watchers) who are thought to have taken human form and mated with human women prior to the Noah Flood.  Readers familiar with the Bible will recognize this as an expansion of the enigmatic statement in Genesis 6:2:  the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they choseAs I have argued elsewhere, it is unlikely that this was the intended meaning of Genesis 6:2, but its presence in Enoch indicates that this misconception has a very long and popular history.  It is entirely possible that the Book of Enoch itself is responsible for the propagation of this interpretation.

The Book of the Parables of Enoch; aka the Similitudes of Enoch (chapters 37-71)[15]

This section is composed of three distinct apocalyptic revelations combined with a description of Enoch’s translation into heaven which is clearly another sensational expansion, this one based on Gen. 5:24.

This portion of the Book of Enoch is of particular interest to New Testament scholars because it uses the title “Son of Man” in relationship to Enoch.  Some scholars have though that it may provide insight into what Jesus meant by his own use of the title.  Unfortunately, it is not clear if this portion of Enoch pre-dates the Gospels (in which case it might provide interesting background) or post-dates them (in which case it may well have taken this language from the Gospels themselves). 

The Astronomical Book; aka The Book of the Heavenly Luminaries (chapters 72-82)

This section is a kind of treatise on astronomy, focused on detailing the movement of the stars as revealed to Enoch.[16]

The Book of Dream Visions; aka The Book of Dreams (chapters 83-90)

This section seems to parallel much of the content of the first two.  It is focused primarily on the role of the fallen angels in various eras of Israelite history.

The Epistle of Enoch (chapters 91-108)

This section seems to be an attempt to deal with the problem of evil.  It addresses the suffering of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked and declares a coming judgment that will coincide with the future arrival of the Messiah.

All together the text of Enoch is relatively substantial, taking up about 122 pages, double-spaced.

Enoch and the Bible

One of the more confusing issues for Christians regarding the Book of Enoch is the fact that it is referenced in the canonical books of Jude and, most likely, 2 Peter:[17] 

It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him." (Jude 1:14-15)

 This is almost certainly[18] a quotation from the “Book of the Watchers” in Enoch:

And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones to execute judgment upon all, and to destroy all the ungodly: and to convict all flesh of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him. (Enoch 1:9)

The connection between Enoch and 2 Peter is slightly less obvious, though still relatively certain:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; (2 Peter 2:4)  

It would appear that Peter is here referencing another passage from the “Book of Watchers” in Enoch:

And again the Lord said to Raphael: 'Bind Azazel hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness: (Enoch 10:4)

Why do these canonical texts reference a pseudepigraphal one?  This has been the subject of considerable debate and it is difficult to be dogmatic about any option, but several things must be recognized:

  1.  Neither Jude nor 2 Peter introduce their use of Enoch material as Scripture.  The New Testament typically introduces quotations of inspired Scripture with something like “it is written” (cf. Mat 4:6, Mark 1:2, Luke 4:4, John 6:31, Rom 1:17, 1Co 1:19, et.al.)  Even 1Pe 1:16, presumably written by the same author as 2Pe,[19] uses this formula:    because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY" (1 Peter 1:16).  However, neither this formula nor any variation of it precedes the Enoch material when it appears in Jude and 2 Peter, implying that they did not consider Enoch to be inspired Scripture.

  2. It was not uncommon for inspired authors to make use of external material with which they expected their audience to be familiar.  Jesus himself followed this practice and some of his parables may even have been more powerful for the fact that he deliberately, but unexpectedly, altered the ending of an otherwise familiar story, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Paul made use of pagan material – which he would certainly not have considered inspired scripture – in Athens when he quoted from both Stoic and Epicurean philosophical writings (Acts 17:22-28).  The fact that Peter and Jude made use of material from Enoch by no means constitutes an affirmation of that material as divinely inspired or authoritative.

  3. The Jewish community and the early Christian community, as a whole, did not consider Enoch to be scripture.  In spite of the apparent popularity of Enoch in the 1st century and the presence of these references in Jude and Peter, it was not widely considered Scripture.  Some early church fathers (Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, Tertullian, et.al.) did think it belonged in the canon, but its eventual exclusion seems to have been assured based on several factors including questions about its authorship, lack of place within the Jewish canon, lack of an apostolic origin, non-orthodox soteriology, et.al.  Enoch was accepted as scripture within the canon in the Ethiopic Orthodox Church and by the Manicheans in the 3rd century.

  4. It is possible that both Jude and 2 Peter use the Enoch material in a negative or even sarcastic fashion.  In my opinion, both Jude and 2 Peter’s use of Enoch material has a negative function; that is, it is used to turn the instruction of false teachers back against them.  It is beyond the scope of this article to develop this argument here, but two things should be noted:  first, both Jude and 2 Peter speak directly against false teachers before turning to material from Enoch, creating a strong contextual association of Enoch with false teaching.  At the very least this suggests that such false teachers as they were concerned to rebuke were taking Enoch as a source text for their heresies.  Second, the references to Enoch in 2 Peter are immediately preceded by this phrase:  and in their [false teachers] greed they will exploit you with false words (2Pe 2:3).  The Greek here translated as “false” is plastōs which means something like “formed” or “molded” and seems to have been used here figuratively to refer to man-made (as opposed to divinely inspired) revelations.  With the references to the Enoch material following immediately after this introduction, it seems quite plausible that Peter meant this label to apply to the very material he was about to quote.  If so, then the condemnation is all the more powerful; not only does Peter dismiss the Enoch material as being man-made but, even so, he condemns false teachers on the basis of the very material they have invented.

Conclusion

The Book of Enoch is an important work from a scholarly perspective as it provides insight into the growth and development of Jewish apocalyptic traditions during the Intertestamental period.  However, beyond that, its significance is severely limited. 

While its use in Jude and 2 Peter (and possibly 1 Peter) have caused some confusion for Christians throughout the centuries – and led to accusations that the early church removed from the canon what should have been included – these biblical references to Enoch do not in any way constitute an acceptance of Enoch as inspired Scripture.  Moreover, it is possible that these biblical references to Enoch should be properly understood as condemning the material itself and, at the very least, constitute an essentially sarcastic use of the material to make the author’s point against false teachers who heavily depended on Enoch of their teachings.

 

[1] A term referring to four lunar eclipses in a row.

[2] Technically speaking, Enoch may also be considered apocryphal, a term often used to refer to non-canonical texts written before the New Testament era.

[3] It seems likely that Adam and Eve had other children born between Cain and Able so that Seth was not their third child.  Seth is likely mentioned by name because he was the replacement for the murdered Able.

[4] This Enoch, who became the subject of later sensationalistic expansion, was a descendent of Adam & Eve’s son, Seth, and should not be confused with the son of Cain mentioned in Gen 4:17:  Cain had relations with his wife and she conceived, and gave birth to Enoch; and he built a city, and called the name of the city Enoch, after the name of his son. Careful readers of these two chapters in Genesis have long noted the considerable similarity of names in the genealogy of Cain and the genealogy of Seth.  While critical scholars have generally taken this as evidence of different authors for these two sections (i.e. the documentary hypothesis), resulting in a confused and decidedly non-historical account, this view has substantial difficulties; cf. Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17, NICOT (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 249-250.  It is more likely that these are simply two different genealogies which involve some of the same – and some similar – names.

[5] It is not entirely clear to me that this is precisely what Gen 5:24 intended to convey.  Certainly is clear that the intent was to communicate that the end of Enoch’s earthly life was unusual because of his righteousness.  Whether this means that Enoch was taken directly to heaven bodily (a view which has some theological difficulties) or that he did not languish in Sheol but rather was united with God after his physical life ended is not immediately evident, though the exposition in Hebrews 11:5 (By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.) would certainly suggest that the author of Hebrews understood it this way.

[6] The KJV translates metatithēmi in Heb 11:5 as “translated”.

[7] This popularity continues today.  Enoch and with him Elijah, who was also spared from death, are sometimes interpreted as the figures reference by the “two witnesses” of Rev. 11. 

[8] For example, see the non-sourced claim by Bill James at http://origin.library.constantcontact.com/download/get/file/1116888733122-4/Blood+Moon+conclusions,+4-16-14.pdf

 

 

[9] This view is similar in some ways to the documentary hypothesis which proposes that the biblical Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) were actually written by multiple authors and compiled over time and then falsely attributed to the historical Moses.  While I reject this view vis-à-vis the Pentateuch, in the case of Enoch, the evidence does seem to point to this sort of compositional process.  As Black asserts, there is sufficient evidence “against the theory of an original pentateuchal Enoch”; Black, Enoch, 10.

[10] Black, Enoch, 4.

[11] Editio princeps by J.T. Milik, The Books of Enoch, Aramaic Fragments of Qumran Cave 4, Oxford, 1976.

[12] Black, Enoch, 1.

[13] Mathew Black, The Book of Enoch or 1 Enoch:  A New English Edition (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1985), 3.

[14] Milik, Aramaic Fragments, 5f.

[15] There is some debate as to whether or not the Aramaic version of Enoch had the “Book of the Giants”, a sequel to the Watcher legend, in place of the “Book of Parables”.  Milik argues that this was the case (4f), but his view does not appear to have been widely accepted.

[16] Raymond F. Surburg, Introduction to the Intertestamental Period (Concordia Publishing House, 1975), 142.

[17] There is also some question about whether or not 1Pe 3:19-20 makes reference to Enoch, though I do not think the case here is very strong.

[18] The dependence of Jude on Enoch at this point seems incontrovertible.  However, it may be worth noting that there is significant parallel language between the Enoch text and Deu 33:2 (The Lord came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand).  It is possible, though beyond the scope of this article to explore, that Enoch is an example of rabbinic midrash and was quoted in Jude as such. 

[19] Critical scholars often assert that 1Pe and 2Pe are the work of different authors or redactors, but I do not find any convincing reason to think so.

0 POST COMMENT

Leave a Reply