Enoch and Salvation

(Online version of a lecture given by G. Macaskill on 23 February 2007.)

All quotations of 2 Enoch are taken from F.I. Andersen, ‘2 (Slavonic Apocalypse of ) Enoch’, in J.H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Volume 1: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments (New York: Doubleday, 1983, 1985) 92-221

In 2 Enoch 64:5 Enoch is described as the one chosen by God to carry away sins. The manuscripts vary in the way that they present this. Some speak of the sins of all mankind while others speak of ‘our’ sins; some use the present tense while others use forms that may indicate a past event. All, however, present Enoch as a figure of salvation. But how might he function as a saviour-figure or mediator and how might this relate to the New Testament’s or indeed the Church’s portrayal of Jesus? It is worth asking these questions because, as we have seen, whatever its authorship 2 Enoch was transmitted by Christians and the portrayal of Enoch as a saviour would presumably either pose a threat to the uniqueness of Christ or would require to be seen as a ‘type’ that foreshadowed him. In what follows I will argue that Enoch is presented as the one who reveals the secrets of creation and that the revelation he mediates enables those who receive it to recover a proper relationship with the Creator God.

1. Righteousness and Creation

To understand Enoch’s saving or mediating role in 2 Enoch, we must appreciate the centrality of the theme of creation to the book and how this relates to Enoch’s role as a revealer of wisdom. It is quite obvious that the theme of revelation is central to 2 Enoch. As Enoch ascends through the seven heavens he sees aspects of creation and of heavenly and eschatological realities. The climax of his heavenly ascent is his arrival in the seventh heaven, where the Lord reveals to him the account of creation. In chapter 40, the uniqueness of Enoch’s knowledge is stressed as he recounts his visions of the heavenly bodies: ‘The angels themselves do not know even their numbers. But I, I have written down their names.’ (40:3)

This language, stressing the veracity and comprehensiveness of Enoch’s knowledge, runs right through this chapter, but it is not an autonomous knowledge that Enoch claims. Rather it is the knowledge that has been revealed to him by God. Chapters 23, 33 and 36 are important here, describing the work of the angel Vereveil in revealing the works of the Lord and then the process by which Enoch’s knowledge is to be written down in book form. In numerous places, these books now take on eschatological significance: they will be preserved by Michael, Ariokh and Mariokh (33:11-12) until being revealed to ‘the last generation of many’ (35:2).

As he rises through the seven heavens, the first things that Enoch sees are the stellar orders (4:1) and the treasuries of the snow and cold (5:1-2) and dew (6:1). In both instances, the role of angels either regulating or protecting the elements is stressed, a narrative feature that, given the subordinate role of the angels stressed throughout the book (e.g. 33:7), emphasises the sovereignty of the Lord over these elements. After his ascension, as he is brought before the Lord – an incident that contains several features intended to stress the uniqueness and holiness of the Lord – Vereveil is appointed to instruct Enoch from the heavenly books. The angel’s discourse is clearly concerned with Creation, but with the emphasis falling on the Lord’s sovereignty: ‘He was telling me all the deeds of the Lord the earth and the sea and all the elements and the courses and the life.’ (23:1)

After Vereveil’s recounting, the Lord himself describes the construction of creation to Enoch. While the account involves mediate creation, through the role of the primal elements Adoil and Arukhas, the stress continually falls on the sovereignty of the Lord over the whole construction; Adoil and Arukhas are clearly subordinate to God, and for most of the account (24:2-30:7) the verbs are in the first person, as the Lord describes his work.

The clear emphasis is on the unique status of the Lord as Creator. This is, of course, a key element within Jewish monotheism of the Second Temple period and within subsequent Christian thought. Within 2 Enoch it is the ethical foundation. At the culmination of the creation account, the Lord stresses his own uniqueness (‘I created from the lowest foundation and up to the highest heaven and out to their end. There is no counsellor and no successor, only myself, eternal, not made by hands.’ 33:3-4) and then commands Enoch to deliver his books to his sons: ‘They will read them and know their Creator. And they will understand that there is no Creator except myself.’ (33:8).

The key function of Enoch’s books, then, is to bring his sons to acknowledge the Lord as their Creator. This calls to mind Enoch’s vision of the place of punishment in chapter 10; at the climax of the list of sins committed by those who are destined to inhabit this place is the fact that they, ‘do not acknowledge their Creator, but bow down to vain gods, constructing images and bowing down to something made by hand.’ (10:6)

It also forms a basis for another climactic reference, this time in a positive context. In 42:14, the climactic beatitude blesses the one who ‘understands all the works of the Lord and because of his works, knows the Creator.’ Numerous other references reinforce the impression that an acknowledgement of the Lord’s sole status as Creator is the foundation of right living (47:2-3;48; 51:5; 52:5; 66:1-5; 70:6).

This fact is developed in specific ways in some of the ethical exhortations. The salient point that we should notice is that certain requirements of behaviour are often founded upon the fact that the Lord is the Creator and that man is his image-bearer. There is, therefore, a sense that Enoch’s paraenetic material is actually calling readers back to the ethics of the Creation itself, the ethical dimension of the created order. A subtle example is found in 44:1-4. Here, the status of human beings as image bearers of God forms a basis for both the prohibition of showing contempt to another human and the positive exhortation to show compassion to the ‘condemned’ and the needy. To insult or profane the image of the Lord is to insult or profane the Lord’s own face. The logic is grounded in Creation; the ethic, therefore, is a reclaiming of a standard inherent to the Creation but rejected by sinners. The command finds a kind of echo in chapter 63, which takes up the alms idea but stresses the necessity of making such gifts gladly: if the heart is grumbling or contemptuous then the offering is meaningless. This would seem to stress the need for some kind of inner transformation of the attitude rather than just an outward conformity to a law.

A second example is found in chapter 58, but echoes of it are heard in other parts of the book. 58:1-4 speak of the naming of the animals by Adam and of the placing of those animals under humanity’s rule. Verses 5-6 then speak of the accusations that the animals will bring against humanity for any mistreatment. This then forms the basis for the discussion in chapter 59 of the correct practice to be followed in making an animal sacrifice or in slaughtering an animal for meat, a practice also referred to in 69:12; given the fact that the discussion in chapter 59 follows on from 58:5-6, it seems that the practice of tying the four legs reflects a desire to minimise the suffering of sacrificed animals. Again, therefore, an aspect of the Creation account has become a basis for a particular ethical standard to be operative among those who have been saved by Enoch’s revelation.

2. Enoch’s Removal of Sin

As noted in our introduction, Enoch is presented as the one who carries/has carried away ‘our sins’/ ‘the sin of mankind.’ How does he fulfil this role?

Because of the presence of resultative participles in some of the texts (‘carried away’ rather than ‘carries away’) and because of the generic reference to ‘mankind’ in the longer recension, Andrei Orlov has argued that Enoch represents a new Adam, in whom the original angelic glory of mankind has already been restored; the transformation of Enoch in 22:9-10 constitutes such a restoration.  (For the Jewish traditions that speak of the glory of Adam, see Alexander Golitzin, ‘Recovering the ‘Glory of Adam’: ‘Divine Light’ Traditions in the Dead Sea Scrolls Present and the Christian Ascetical Literature of Fourth-Century Syro-Mesopotamia.’ Pages 275-308 in The Dead Sea Scrolls as Background to Postbiblical Judaism and Early Christianity: Papers from an International Conference at St Andrews in 2001. Edited by James R. Davila. Studies on the Texts from the Desert of Judah 46. Leiden: Brill, 2003.).

I have challenged Orlov¿s reading of the evidence in my book, Revealed Wisdom and Inaugurated Eschatology in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity (JSJSupp 115. Leiden: Brill, 2007), 220-225, as I think the links with Adamic traditions are not as strong as he suggests, particularly in the shorter recension.

I would suggest instead that Enoch’s transformation in this chapter is intended to reinforce God’s unique status: Enoch must be transformed if he is to stand before the Lord. Unlike the Similitudes, where the Son of Man sits on God’s own throne, 2 Enoch maintains a strong distinction between God and his status and that of the created beings such as Enoch or the angels. Enoch¿s transformation is a necessity for his sojourn in the heavenly realm, a conclusion reinforced by the fact that, prior to his return to earth, the glory of his face must be ‘cooled’ (37:1). We must, I think, be careful therefore of using the language of ‘deification’ of Enoch’s transformation.

If the transformation of Enoch in chapter 22 is not the key to the reference in 65:4 then what is? It is interesting that the reference to Enoch carrying away sins is in direct apposition to a reference to his role as revealer. The text of the manuscript A reads: ‘For the Lord has chosen you, the one who reveals, who carries away our sins.’ I would suggest that Enoch reveals how one’s relationship with God as Creator may be restored and in this sense deals with or ‘removes’ the problem of sin. This may seem to fall short of a full explanation for the reference to carrying away sins, but there is in my view nothing in the text that might provide an alternative.

The notion of salvation in 2 Enoch, then, is one of belonging to a minority of people that has accepted Enoch’s revelation and entered into a restored relationship with its creator.

3. Enoch and Jesus

This, of course, both parallels and differs from the thought of the New Testament, in which Jesus is portrayed as the second Adam, through whom life comes to all (Rom 5:12-21) and believers as belonging to a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). Christian theology – especially in Eastern Orthodoxy – has developed these themes, seeing the human believer, deified in Christ, as being at the heart of the new creation and seeing salvation as cosmic. The atoning significance of Jesus’ death and the life-giving power of his resurrection are, of course, central to Christian thought, and this is markedly distinct from what we find in 2 Enoch.

Nevertheless, Jesus has also always been understood as a revealer figure in Christianity, a fact attested by the popularity of John’s Gospel, with its logos Christology: ‘No one has ever seen God, but God the Only-Begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father, has made him known’ (Jn 1:18)

In a way that is more similar to 2 Enoch, Matthew’s Gospel very much presents Jesus as a revealer of heavenly wisdom and at times grounds his ethical teaching in the created order (see especially the divorce teaching of Matthew 19) or in the idea of the imago dei (see Matthew 5:44-45). It is important that this role of Jesus is seen as having eschatological prophetic dimensions that contrast with other human teachers (e.g. Matthew 7:29). The littering of Jesus’ teaching with object-lessons from the natural order also develops the association of ‘righteousness’ with creation. James seems to pick up on this fact, grounding his own ethics in a similar way (e.g. James 3:9). Orthodox theologians have portrayed this as the life expected of those who belong to the New Creation.

In fact, it is with Matthew that the greatest number of similarities may be seen between 2 Enoch and the New Testament; I have outlined these in Revealed Wisdom, pages 204-207. I would suggest that the Christians who transmitted 2 Enoch saw the patriarch as a ‘type’ foreshadowing Jesus and that the similarities between the pseudepigraphon and Matthew facilitated this move. ‘Types,’ both in classic Christian theologies and in modern ones, such as that of von Rad functioned not necessarily as ‘allegories’ for Christ but as ‘analogues.’ (See the discussion of von Rad in Francis Watson Text and Truth, Edinburgh:  T&T Clark, 1998, pages 197-209. An English translation of von Rad’s classic essay ‘Typologische Auslegung des Alten Testaments,’ EvTh 12 [1952] 17-23, is found in C. Westermann, Essays on Old Testament Hermeneutics [Richmond: John Knox Press, 1963], 17-39). While there are obvious and unsubtle attempts to relate Melchizedek to Christ in secondary interpolations in the closing chapters (71:34 and possibly 72:7), there is no attempt to ‘Christianise’ Enoch himself, but a typological reading would not require this. In fact, I would submit for discussion that the absence of such Christianisation is evidence that the work was read typologically, by Christians who saw the ethical teaching of Enoch as illustrative of or analogous to that of Jesus.


The righteous life in 2 Enoch is a matter of living in proper relationship to God as Creator. This may only be attained through the revelation of Enoch, who has been given access to the secrets of creation. Parallels may be drawn with Jesus, who is also seen as revealing the will of God and as depicting this in creational terms. Christians would most likely have understood the depiction of Enoch as a saviour or mediator as typological.

(c) 2007
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the author.

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