The Similitudes of Enoch

(Summary of a lecture given by J. R. Davila on 2 March 2007)

The following topics were addressed in this lecture.

Enoch in the Bible:

  •  Enoch first appears in Genesis 5:18-24 in the list of patriarchs (Adam to Noah) who lived before the Flood.  Enoch had the (comparatively!) short life span of 365 years.  A connection between the length of his life (equal in years to the days in a solar year) and the Qumran solar calendar has been suggested, but I find this unpersuasive because the Qumran solar calendar had a year of 364 days.  In any case we are told that Enoch walked with God (or “the gods” — Elohim, a Hebrew word that can be either singular or plural) and was taken — evidently translated to heaven without dying.
  • Genesis 6:1-4 tells the story of the “sons of God” (that is the fallen angels or gods – cf. Job chapter 1) who mated with the “daughters of men,” that is, mortal women.  The result was the Nephilim (“fallen ones”?  “abortions”?) who were cannibalistic semi-divine monsters or giants whom God had to destroy with the Flood.  Both this story and the story of Enoch figure in the Enochic literature discussed below.

On the Enochic Literature:

  • For a general orientation to the book of 1 Enoch and the collection of books it contains, see the 1997 online essay “The Enoch Literature” by James VanderKam.  See also the bibliographies for the Enoch literature and the four Enochic books that were covered in this course in 2002 (The Book of Giants, The Book of the Watchers, the Animal Apocalypse, and The Epistle of Enoch).  The best translation of 1 Enoch currently available is George W. E. Nickelsburg and James C. Vanderkam, 1 Enoch: A New Translation ( Minneapolis, Minn: Fortress, 2004).  If you are interested enough in 1 Enoch to be following this course, it is a worthwhile investment.
  • 2 Enoch is being covered in detail in this course this year.  The VanderKam lecture linked to above also has a brief treatment.
  • 3 Enoch is an apocalypse written in Hebrew and surviving in various longer and shorter forms in the manuscripts.  The core material in chapters 1-15/16 existed by the ninth century C.E.  In it, the deified patriarch Enoch, known as the angel Metatron or “the lesser YHWH” leads the second-century C.E. Rabbi Ishmael on a tour of the universe and the heavenly realm.

The Genre of the Similitudes.

  • The Similitudes of Enoch come in the form of an “apocalypse.”  For a discussion of this genre see my 1997 online lecture on “Apocalyptic Literature (The Apocalypse of Sedrach).”
  • I operate with the definition of the genre developed by John and Adele Yarbro Collins:

    “‘Apocalypse’ is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial, insofar as it involves another, supernatural world, intended to interpret present, earthly circumstances in light of the supernatural world and of the future, and to influence both the understanding and the behaviour of the audience by means of divine authority.” (Semeia 36, pp. 2 and 7)

  • More specifically, the Similitudes constitute a type IIb apocalypse, which consists of an other-worldly journey with cosmic and/or political eschatology.  Enoch has otherworldly journeys and visions of eschatological judgment interpreted by an angelic guide.  There is no review of history.

The manuscripts and original language of the Similitudes:

  • Approximately 49 Ethiopic manuscripts of 1 Enoch survive, dated to the 14th-19th centuries C.E., and most of these contain the Similitudes.  Notably, unlike the rest of the books preserved in the Ethiopic text of 1 Enoch, no fragments of the Similitudes survive among the Qumran manuscripts.  More than one explanation of this is possible.  It may be that there were copies of the book at Qumran that deteriorated  completely before they were found.  J. T. Milik (the editor of the Aramaic fragments of 1 Enoch from Qumran) argued that the Similitudes are a Christian composition that was not written until the third century C.E.  And Gabriele Boccaccini has argued that the Similitudes are the relic of a moderate form of Essenism that was rejected by the extremist Essenes who collected the Qumran library. (Rumors persist of the existence of another, unpublished Aramaic manuscript of Enochic material — contents uncertain — circulating on the antiquities market, but if it exists, it has not yet been produced.)
  • Since the work survives only in Ethiopic, the original language remains a matter of conjecture.  It is widely accepted that it was translated from Greek, although some scholars think it was translated from Aramaic.  If from Greek, it is possible and widely accepted (perhaps too widely) that the Greek was translated from an Aramaic original.  Given the Qumran Aramaic fragments of many of the Enochic books and the Hebrew traditions related to the Similitudes found in 3 Enoch (see below), this is a not unreasonable conjecture, but it remains to be proved.  It is possible that the Similitudes are a Greek composition that was added to the Greek translations of the other Enochic books to make the book of 1 Enoch that was subsequently translated into Ethiopic.

Enoch as a divine mediator figure in the Similitudes:

  • The exegetical problem for which the Similitudes has received the most attention is its presentation of Enoch as a divine mediator figure who bears the titles “Son of Man,| “Anointed” (or “Messiah”), and “Chosen.”  I have discussed these in detail online on the Divine Mediator Figures website in lectures on “Methodology”and “Enoch as a Divine Mediator)”. These were subsequently developed into a published article listed in the bibliography.
  • The end of the book (chapters 70-71) is somewhat difficult and its problems raise questions about the integrity of the text as it stands at present.  Enoch ascends to heaven, where he sees God and the attending angels in the celestial throne room.  There he is informed that he himself is the heavenly Son of Man.  Although it is by no means unparalleled for a human being to be transformed into a divine being in Second Temple Jewish theology (e.g., Melchizedek and Jesus), it is strange that until the end of the book Enoch sees the Son of Man as another person and has no inkling he is viewing himself.  There is not a consensus on the answer to this enigma, but one possibility is that part of chapter 70 and all of 71 are a secondary conclusion tacked onto the book at some stage after its composition.  If so, it would seem that the traditions about Enoch in 3 Enoch are based on something like the final form of the book as we know it rather than on a possible earlier stage.  For more on this, see “Enoch as a Divine Mediator)”.

The origins of the Similitudes:

  • Elements of the internal evidence are ambiguous.  There are clear indications of the Jewish background of the Similitudes, such as references to Noah and the Flood; the Garden of Eden; allusions to the scriptural books of Daniel, the Psalms, and Isaiah, and so on.  There are also elements found in Christian sources, notably the combination of the Son of Man with the Messiah and the Servant of Isaiah, and his coming in glory at the final judgment.  But key elements of Christianity are missing as well, such as the earthly rejection, suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection of the Messiah.
  •  One important piece of external evidence is the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46, which arguably draws on the Similitudes (perhaps the earlier lost recension that did not identify Enoch with the Messiah).  The Matthean parable and the Similitudes present the Son of Man as the Messiah (the King) who sits on a glorious throne among the angels and judges the nations to eternal life or eternal punishment.  These connections are unique enough to point to some close relationship between the two works.  If the Similitudes is a Jewish work (see below), the direction of influence was almost certainly from it to the Christian Gospel of Matthew than the other way around, in which case at least the early recension of the Similitudes seems to have existed by the late first century C.E.
  • The external evidence of 3 Enoch is also important.  There is clearly a close relationship between 3 Enoch 1-15/16, although the means of transmission of the traditions remain far from clear.  I have discussed the parallels between them and their implications in “Enoch as a Divine Mediator)”.  It is extremely unlikely that a Jewish work like 3 Enoch would draw on the theology of the Similitudes unless it was perceived to be a Jewish tradition rather than a Christian one.
  • More specifically, moving back to internal evidence, it seems very unlikely that a Christian author would have assigned Enoch the roles of Danielic Son of Man, Messiah, and Isaianic Servant.  Jewish authorship seems far more likely, especially in that a deified archangelic Enoch was accepted in at least one Jewish circle (the one that produced and transmitted 3 Enoch) some centuries later and for many centuries thereafter.
  • The date of the composition of the Similitudes is debatable.  The general consensus is that it was written in the first century B.C.E. or C.E., although this conclusion is based on debatable interpretations of ambiguous internal historical references.
  • My conclusion is that the Similitudes are a Jewish work from the early centuries C.E.
  • I should note that at the November 2007 Society of Biblical Literature meetings, when my book was reviewed by the Pseudepigrapha Group, Professor John Reeves challenged my conclusion and suggested that the theology of the Similitudes may fit into a late-antique Syro-Mesopotamian Christian/Manichean milieu.  This proposal was not received with any great enthusiasm in the session, but it is difficult to evaluate until Professor Reeves publishes a full defence of his argument.

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