Enoch Pt.2: The Ancient Evidence

In the first post I briefly introduced the idea that there exists a textual tradition of Enoch which lies outside of the Bible, a tradition that 1st century Christians had and accepted to one degree or another as true. I posed the question as to how these two traditions might relate and whether there existed the possibility that in this tradition we might be able to detect a restoration of lost ancient text by Joseph Smith in his JST account of Enoch in the Book of Moses. In this post we’ll look at some of that extra-biblical literature, when we think it was written and whom by. Be warned, this post is a bit dense.

There are more than 20 Jewish and Christian extra-biblical texts that refer to Enoch as a major figure. Of these there are 3 books that bear Enoch’s name: 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, and 3 Enoch. 1 Enoch is a text that has been preserved primarily in Ethiopic by Ethiopian Jews. 1 Enoch consists of 5 separate works, called booklets, which are called, in order: the Book of the Watchers, Similitudes (or Parables), the Astronomical Book, the Dream Book, and Epistle of Enoch. Most scholars date them variously from the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD. Fragments of this text survive in multiple languages. It is thought to have been originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic.

The Astronomical Book and the Book of the Watchers are considered the two oldest booklets and are dated to the 3rd century BC. The Epistle of Enoch and the Dream Book are dated just prior to the Macabbean Revolt in the 2nd century. Similitudes is dated variously to the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD. This last booklet is the most controversial and is the most interesting to us. Similitudes is dominated by a single character, the son of man; a figure which parallels so closely to the Christian idea of Christ as the Son of Man that it is debated as to whether the book was written by Christians or simply appropriated heavily. Adding to the controversy, the Similitudes is the only booklet which was not found at Qumran.

It would be great if I told you all what each of these booklets is like and what’s in them but I can’t. In its entirety 1 Enoch is 109 chapters long. It’s huge. However, if you really want to know I would send you to wikipedia. I know, I know, it’s wikipedia and you can’t trust anything you read on there. But the entry on 1 Enoch is impressive. It looks like someone really smart with too much time wrote it up and it contians a nice outline and summary of each of 1 Enoch’s booklets, all of which appear to be accurate. Here’s the address, I don’t know how to make links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_Enoch

2 Enoch is much shorter than 1 Enoch and much more mysterious. It was preserved only in Slavonic but is thought to have been originally composed in Hebrew and transmited through Greek. Also called the Secrets of Enoch, scholars can’t decide whether it was written by a Jew or a Christian. It has been estimated to have been written about two centuries after the 1 Enoch material. However, Brother Nibley feels that there are legitimate connections between this document and the Book of Moses.

I haven’t looked at 3 Enoch myself so I’ll need to exclude it from this post. But you can trust that at some time I’ll definitely be looking into it. There are, as I’ve said before, many documents, Jewish and Christian, that mention Enoch and say something about him. The Greek fragments of 1 Enoch (related but distantly) are also of interest in this comparison of historical texts to Joseph’s Enoch. They are among the closest textwise to the Christians who used them and in the right language improving the chances of detecting NT and early Christian influences and quotations.

If I haven’t said it yet, you should all know that my study piggybacks off of Nibley’s book <i>Enoch the Prophet</i> but I went back and checked his comparisons in order to evaluate his connections. Some didn’t work at all (I used the very recent translation by VanderKam in order to incorporate what we’ve learned texually since the last official translation 100 years ago that Nibley used) while others were spot on. Obviously my study is fairly limited (and amateur; I’m only just graduating from my undergraduate program) so take it for what it’s worth.

The debates about the community of Jews that produced the original Enochic literature are greatly varied and expanding quickly today. Tanslation: we don’t know squat about them, it’s all reconstruction at this point from evidence that is so ambiguous that no clear image can be seen yet. But that doesn’t mean that these conclusions have no value; to the contrary, these sorts of discussions often narrow with time and further discovery, building on one another until we are a bit closer to the truth. Here are a few recent ideas about who wrote the Enochic books.

Probably the most mainstream idea today is that the Essenes, probably even the Qumran Essenes (I know that I’m taking that connection for granted but it isn’t the point of this post so please just play along nice for now you DSS scholars, OK?). This is because all of the booklets of 1 Enoch were found at Qumran but Similitudes. The idea is that the group from which the Qumranites descended (proto-Essenes maybe) produced the separate booklets of1 Enoch that were later compiled. When Qumran was founded, the Essenes (or whoever) who were there copied and transmitted them. From here the Christians became aware of them and were influenced by them.

A more recent and, in my mind, more interesting possibility has been proposed. According to one scholar (Gabriele Boccaccini in case you care), the Qumran group descends from a group of what he calls Enochic Jews who were intermingled in with all the rest of the Jews. These Enochic Jews are to be distinguished from everyone else based on their use of the Enochic literature and a few doctrinal differences that derive from their use of the literature. They probably didn’t have a special name for themselves, they were just Jews with slightly different scriptures and ideas (not an improbable idea since the Jewish canon wasn’t set until the 2nd century AD or so). In theory, the Essenes broke away from the larger group because they felt that they were called and set apart from the rest of the Jews, a group of chosen people called out of a larger chosen group. Real creme de la creme stuff. Anywho, when they left they took the Enochic books with them and that’s how we find them at Qumran.

Further, the regular Enochic Jews continued to exist among the Holy Land Jews. According to Boccaccini, these Jews had a great influence on the formation of Christianity. He thinks that the Enochic tradition is a better context for the earliest Christian’s beliefs, especially about the Messiah. I would add that this opens the possibility that the reason that Similitudes wasn’t found at Qumran was because the Qumranites didn’t accept the portrayal of the Messiah found in the Similitudes (Boccaccini himself postulates that the Essenes split from the Enochic Jews over doctrinal issues). In any case, this argument pushes the dating of 1 Enoch back before the foundation of Qumran in the 3rd century.

This idea has some parallels to another scholar who wrote earlier but is not very well accepted (for obvious reasons). Margaret Barker is not a name to be carelessly tossed around here but her extreme ideas will be presented here because of how they correspond to Joseph Smith’s account of Enoch. She too argues for a division among the Jews based on differing theology though her beliefs are much more extreme than Boccaccini’s and have not been well received by the academic world. The Enochic community, according to her, has no strong connections to the OT. She says that they are a group which has no discernable sacraficial cult, hardly any mention of the Law of Moses, and a theology that is more at home with that of Isaiah and Psalms, likewise having their roots in the time of the First Temple and its theology. They rejected the Second Temple and the doctrine of its leaders, maintaining their First Temple time ideas. She argues that the Book of the Watchers is the oldest of the Enochic booklets, predating the Babylonian Captivity based on its lack of criticism of the Second Temple. I know that some of you are rolling your eyes right now (Barker’s ideas on a divided Judaism go much further than given here) but it merits mentioning.

These ideas bear mentioning because according to the Book of Moses, the record of Enoch that he received reportedly came through Moses. Moses saw Enoch in his vision on Mt. Sinai and wrote it down, in theory, with the rest of Genesis. The text of the Book of Moses presents itself as a restoration of text lost. As noted in my first post, it is disputed that these additions in the JST are restorations. But I assert again that when Joseph is acting under the idea that he is restoring at least some ancient text and that when the text presents itself as a fuller form of a text given to Moses by revelation that we ought to give the text a chance to demonstrate to us that this is the case. If this is the case, that Moses originally wrote a record that contained a detailed section on Enoch, then Barker’s seemingly crazy idea that 1 Enoch comes from the First Temple period is off, but in the opposite direction of what we’d expect! It could be that the textual impetus for 1 Enoch derives fromMoses himself, if we take the Book of Moses literally.

Next time: How much influence did 1 Enoch have on the NT and the earliest Christians.

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  • http://mormoninquiry.typepad.com Dave

    Fine write-up, Lxx. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    Good stuff LXX, thanks.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clark/ Clark

    3 Enoch is pretty unlike the others but is pretty important in other ways in terms. All the Merkabah texts end up having some important similarities and are of interest to Mormons.

  • Kerry Shirts

    It’s also in 3rd Enoch that the name Metatron is used of Enoch. All the Enoch texts are important and interesting. Thanks for the write up.


  • Jason

    Just to note: based on the stars used (the empty southern ring, and their slant), the astronomer John Pratt dates the introduction of the 48 constellations to 2900 BC at 36° north latitude, which is roughly when (and where? Sumeria?) the bible says Enoch would have lived. He goes on to postulate that the Astronomical book of Enoch was a real revelation from God, originally revealed circa 2900 BC.

  • lxxluthor

    Jason: Wow. My cynical side wants immediately to laugh out loud at such a seemingly silly idea. However, I’m not an astronomer so maybe he does have a clue. But really the big problem here is according to his dating, Adam would have been born c. 3587 BC, clearly not long enough ago to fit into the 7000 years of the earth’s temporal existence.

  • Jason

    Well, the precession of the equinoxes moves the stars only 1° every 73 yrs, so the date of 2900 is therefore not exact, just general vicinity. Also, other astronomers (like Hugh Thurston) have also observed the same thing about the constellations, but haven’t gone as far in giving a particular inventor.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com Dimitrius Jones

    Since the discovery of the dead sea scrolls,a great dael of controversy has followed because no one has been able to see them for over 40 years,except for a small circle of chosen so called white experts,mostly Jews.One wonders if Enoch’s Ethiopian connection was not playing some small role in overall secrecy and limited access that has plagued the Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts.There seems to be an ominious cloud hangin over certain religiuos circles in the world as if some unexpected revelation was about to unfold. Perhaps those who guard them are painfully aware of the efffects the Dead sea scrolls will have on the early history of christianity.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com Dimitrius Jones

    What part does Africa play in this drama of Christian origins? These Scrolls experts certainly know something that the rest of the world does not,that is the African origins of the bible had another link to forge on the chain of Thruth as to the real beginnings of Christianity and scripture among the African race.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    The secrecy of the scrolls was resolved long ago when they were finally published. For the current status of the publication of the scrolls, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Sea_Scrolls#Publication.

    I suspect that you are reading something from the 80’s as your source of information? This period was filled with speculation on the purpose of the secrecy and the “controversial” contents of the scrolls.

    Oh, and the “small circle” was mostly Christians. When Jews took it over, it went just fine!