The Book of Enoch: An Introduction

The Book of Enoch: An Introduction

And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him. Genesis 5:24

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. Hebrews 11:5

And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. Jude 1:14–15

In the Bible as presently constituted, these verses, with the addition of his genealogy, is all that is said of the Enoch figure. The reference in Jude, however opens a flood of questions. This short reference hints of a larger record of Enoch, regards him as a prophet, and even quotes from one of his prophecies. What was Jude’s source? What is it about? What does it mean? The balance of this post attempts to briefly sum up and summarize some answers to these questions.

Fragment from 1 Enoch

WHAT WAS JUDE’S SOURCE?

An Ethiopic text constituting what is now known as The Book of Enoch (or 1 Enoch, to differentiate it from other texts that have been discovered about Enoch) was rediscovered in the 1700s. However, it wasn’t until the mid 19th century that the text began to be known to the English-speaking world, and worldwide scholarly interest and study began to spread.  Since that time, even more ancient versions of the text have been discovered as an important part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, solidifying the knowledge that the original texts were pre-Christian in origin. [1]

Included in this work is the very prophecy that Jude cited. Further study of 1 Enoch in connection with the New Testament has found numerous unattributed allusions, references, and quotations to the text, bringing forth the new information that the Enoch text was not only known by many of the New Testament writers, but also viewed as a source of truth. [2]

Following the Apostolic era, the Early Church Fathers continued to cite additional references from 1 Enoch as authoritative along with the more well-known currently canonized scriptures. For them, Enoch was as much scripture as anything in the Hebrew Old Testament. Due to troubles in interpreting some of the ‘strange’ imagery, and the doctrinal questions raised by it that challenged the current received orthodoxy, the text was eventually expelled from the Western Canon of scripture. The Ethiopic Church, however, today still considers Enoch as part of their Official Canon.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

As presently constituted, 1 Enoch is a compilation of symbolic narrative and prophecy, all centered around the antediluvian Patriarch Enoch. [3] It is, to a degree, an expansion of Genesis 6:1–5

1 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,

 

The Watchers

2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.

3 And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.

4 There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.

5 ¶ And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

In 1 Enoch, the story is told of how in the beginning, two groups of rebel angels (sons of God), called Watchers, chose to break Celestial Law, and perform forbidden acts on the earth.

One group, led by Azazel, taught the inhabitants of the earth knowledge that was not yet authorized for them to have. They taught advanced science, chemistry, metal-working, and the use of jewelry and makeup for vain purposes. According to one version of the story, this resulted in another group of angels (under the direction of Shemihazah) to enter into a Secret Oath to break the Laws of Heaven, and to come down to mate with these daughters of men who were now flaunting their beauty.

As a result of this unholy mating, the violated women gave birth to gigantic abominations who began to wage wars of great violence on the earth.

The Archangels, upon becoming aware of this situation, were ordered by God to take care of the situation. They were ordered to bind Azazel, Shemihazah and their followers in an abyss (compare ‘the strong man’ being bound in Matthew 12:29. The story of Azazel’s binding may be the one referred to in a Semitic original, as Azazel means literally ‘strong one of God’.). An order was also given to slay the giants.

The spirits that inhabited the bodies of the giants would be released from their bodies, but forced to roam the earth. The fallen watchers combined with the spirits of the giants made up the Demonic Legions.

Enoch, having been called by God and granted a vision of the Heavenly Temple, was a seer, and a prophet. He served as a mediator between the archangels and the Watchers. The Watchers pleaded with Enoch to intercede for their pardon, and the Archangels delivered their condembing response back to them through Enoch: It is the role of Angels to intercede for Men, and not the other way around.

Enoch's Ascent

Enoch is granted a vision of the Cosmos, and it is made known to him how the world works. He is given two great visions of the past, present, and future. One is in the form of a great Animal Vision, where the history of the world is shown from Adam until the Final Judgment, with all the key players represented by Animals, except for angels, which are represented by Men. A shorter version of the same events is presented as the Apocalypse of Weeks.

Within the visions, he is shown the figure of the Chosen One, the Son of Man, an angelic figure next in authority to God who will be responsible for the Judgment.

Having made known to him all this knowledge, he is then told that he will be returned to Earth, but in a short time he will be raised again to the Heavenly Sphere, serving as a heavenly scribe. He will be given a limited amount of time on earth to set his affairs in order, and he is also directed to inform his posterity of the coming Judgment and Flood, and to warn them of all the wickedness of the End Times, and to give counsel as to how to avoid it, and become righteous on the eyes of God. Enoch writes letters addressed to the Righteous in the Latter Days, and warns of wicked ones who will alter the scriptures and teach their own philosophies as truth.

1 Enoch includes a narrative of the circumstances surrounding the birth of Noah, and the coming of the great Flood, the end of the first great Era in Biblical History.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

While at first appearing to be simply a wildly imaginative expansion of the Genesis narrative, a study of context and symbol uncovers a richly symbolic prophetic drama.

Based on internal and textual evidence, 1 Enoch, as presently constituted, was edited or compiled during the Maccabean  Period, following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Exile. A key to interpretation can be found in the details of the historic overviews in the Animal Vision, and the Apocalypse of Weeks.

Both make a reference to the destruction and pollution of Solomon’s Temple that agree with the Biblical Narrative. However, where it differs is where it becomes interesting. Even before the sacking of Jerusalem and the complete physical destruction of the Temple, the Temple and Priesthood were already viewed as having become polluted, and no longer authorized by God. The Temple of Zerubabel, the modest temple rebuilt in the initial return from Exile, was not viewed as being a valid temple or accepted by God.

The point of view of 1 Enoch is that from the time of wicked reforms in Solomon’s Temple and Priesthood to the day the writings were compiled, that the true priesthood and its authorized ordinances had been severed. The work sees in its day the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that, “The earth … is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.” (Isaiah 24:5).

With this context in mind, and with the understanding from additional texts that show that Priests in temple service viewed themselves as Angels, we view the Fallen Angels in 1 Enoch not as Celestial Spirits, but as Polluted Priests, who chose to break their sacred covenants, change the divine order of things by halting teaching the things of righteousness, and instead focus on worldly pleasures, and give into their carnal lusts. This was not ignored by God, and the resultant pollution of the Land was then destroyed by divine decree.

This, then, the current Book of Enoch, is the story of the true reasons for the Jewish Exile told in gorgeous allegory, recontextualizing the even more ancient story of the rebel Azazel , which was already well known in Temple Tradition as part of the Day of Atonement ritual.

The message of the book sets forth the displeasure of God, and the reasons for Israel’s destruction, but yet

Weeping over the Destruction of Jerusalem

promises a future hope for the righteous that do not reject Divine Wisdom for the ways of the World. It warned that the oracles of God had been corrupted, and misinterpreted (echoing Jeremiah’s warning, “”How can you say, ‘We are wise, And the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes Has made it into a lie.” – Jeremiah 8:8 NASB) , – but promised a day when the Righteous would again have the Wisdom of God in its purity.

While in its final form certainly not written by the ancient Enoch, the author/compiler spoke in a prophetic voice, taking upon himself the name of Enoch, probably as both a safety precaution (to hide his identity from those who opposed his teachings), and as a symbol showing forth the parallels of the current state of affairs with that of the wickedness of the pre-flood civilization. In the future, a great day of Divine Judgment would come. But the Hope was taught that the Chosen One of God, the Son of Man, the Lord of the Sheep, would come to rescue the righteous who came into His true fold , just as Noah offered Salvation to those who would hearken to his voice, and obediently enter his Ark. [4]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_Enoch#Rediscovery

[2] see http://stargods.org/EnochQuoted.htm for an incomplete listing of examples.

[3] There are many sources for reading 1 Enoch. I highly recommend 1 Enoch: A New Translation; Based on the Hermeneia Commentary. It is the newest, easiest to read, and best presentation I’ve seen yet. Links to other older translations can be found here.

[4] For further reading and discussion of the implications of the Enoch literature, I recommend The Lost Prophet: The Book of Enoch and its Influence on Christianity, by Margaret Barker, and Enoch the Prophet by Hugh Nibley. For the more ambitious of you, an exhaustive commentary on Enoch is also available. This commentary has rocked my world.

3 thoughts on “The Book of Enoch: An Introduction

  1. I first read 1 Enoch in 2007 and found it to be very helpful in understanding what many Jews in Jesus’ time were looking for. Clearly Jude considered 1 Enoch scripture on par with any of the ancient prophets that are today part of the Old Testament. It’s certainly possible that Jesus also taught using 1 Enoch, which brings up important questions about how to define scripture. I agree that 1 Enoch does not originate with the antediluvian patriarch, but hadn’t seen the possibility of allegory that you describe in your post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas.

  2. Thanks for your comments! I first read parts of Enoch back probably around 2004, and I found it to be a very strange book. I didn’t read it through until about 2006, and I didn’t have the background to fully appreciate what I was seeing until I read it again this past year. I’ve become convinced that many elements of the Enoch corpus are very important keys for unlocking not only elements and references in the New Testament, but also missing links for interpreting the Old Testament as well. While as you noted, I don’t believe 1 Enoch was written by the antediluvian patriarch, I do believe the work contains within it ancient traditions much older than the compilation itself, and perhaps older than many of the final forms of the books in our current Old Testament. These traditions and legends were re-contextualized to tell a modern story (that of the exile). This seems to be a pattern among prophets – to take a familiar sacred narrative, and to transplant the players and setting to a different emphasis for a different people.

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