The Enoch Literature

James C. VanderKam
University of Notre Dame

[James VanderKam is Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at the University of Notre Dame. He has also taught at North Carolina State University. He is an expert on the Enoch literature and the world’s formost living authority on the book of Jubilees. His publications include _Textual and Historical Studies in the Book of Jubilees_ (1977), _Enoch and the Growth of an Apocalyptic Tradition_ (1984), and critical editions of the the Ethiopic text of Jubilees (1989) and the Hebrew MSS of Jubilees from Qumran (1995).–JRD]

This paper will treat 1-2 Enoch, with primary emphasis falling on the earlier and more familiar 1 Enoch. The first part covers some introductory issues about both books, while the second presents thematic matters that arise in both books but that are presented here especially in connection with 1 Enoch.

I. Introductory points

A. 1 Enoch: 1 Enoch, preserved in a full, 108-chapter form in Ethiopic, consists of five parts and one appended chapter. It originated in Aramaic (perhaps Hebrew for chaps. 37-71), was translated into Greek, and from Greek into Ethiopic. Some have argued that there was no intermediate Greek level between the Aramaic and the Ethiopic, but this seems less likely. The five booklets that comprise the book range in date from perhaps before 200 BCE to the end of the first century BCE or possibly somewhat later. 1. Chaps. 1-36 The Book of the Watchers may date from the third century BCE. Parts of its text have been identified on several copies from Qumran cave 4; the earliest fragmentary manuscript (4QEnocha) dates, according to the editor J.T. Milk, to between 200 and 150 BCE. All Qumran copies are in the Aramaic language. This section may be subdivided into several sections:

1-5 a theophany followed by an eschatological admonition
6-11 the angel story (stories)
12-16 Enoch and the failed petition of the angels who descended
17-19 Enoch’s first journey
20-36 Enoch’s second journey (chap. 20 is a list of angels who are connected with the journeys)

2. Chaps. 37-71 The Book of Parables (or the Similitudes of Enoch) may have been composed in the late first century BCE; a number of scholars prefer to place it in the first or even the second century CE. Milik assigns it to the late third century CE. No fragments of these chapters have been found at Qumran, and some think their original language was Hebrew, not Aramaic. A feature of chaps. 37-71 is the frequent reference to a person who is called “the righteous one”, “the chosen one”, “the messiah”, and “the son of man” (for this last title three different formulations are used); at the end of the section (chap. 71) Enoch is identified as that son of man who functions as the eschatological judge, a judge who reverses the fortunes of his oppressed people and of their oppressors who are termed “the kings and the mighty”. Naturally, comparisons have been made between this son of man and Jesus’s self-portrait as son of man in the gospels, especially in Matthew.

3. Chaps. 72-82 The Astronomical Book, like the Book of Watchers, may date from the third century BCE; the oldest copy of it seems to have been made not long after 200 BCE. Sizable portions of the text are preserved on four copies, written in Aramaic, from Qumran cave 4. The Aramaic original appears to have been much different and much longer than the Ethiopic text, adding far more astronomical details. The work explains the structure of the universe by describing the course of the sun in a 364-day year and of the moon in a 354-day year. The same two years (solar and lunar) with the same numbers of days are combined and correlated in a number of the calendrical documents found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The sun and moon pass through gates at the eastern and western sides of the heavens. Other sections of the booklet speak about the stars and winds and other related topics. All of the created order is under angelic and ulitimately under divine control.

4. Chaps. 83-90 The Book of Dreams is also represented on Aramaic copies from Qumran cave 4. The chapters consist of two dream visions given to Enoch. Chaps. 83-84 tell about his vision of the coming flood, while 85-90 contain the Animal Apocalypse. The latter presents biblical history from Adam and Eve to Maccabean times, shortly after which the end is to come. The recognizable historical allusions at the end of the apocalypse (before the actual predictions begin) suggest that it was written in the late 160’s BCE. The characters in biblical history are not named but are represented as various kinds of animals. Israel is a flock of sheep and God is the Lord of the sheep. After a time in which Israel is misruled by 70 shepherds (= angels; the time of their dominion stretches from before the Babylonian exile to the end of history), the final judgment comes. A messiah plays a modest role in the eschatological events (90:37-38).

5. Chaps. 91-107 The Epistle of Enoch, a hortatory work parts of which are preserved in Aramaic, may date to a time just before the Maccabean period (perhaps about 170). One reason for making this claim is that the author of the Apocalypse of Weeks, a revelation now found in reverse form in 93:1-10 (the first seven weeks) and 91:11-17 (the last three weeks and beyond; the correct order is found in an Aramaic copy), shows no awareness of the anti-Jewish decrees of Antiochus IV and the Maccabean-led response. The apocalypse divides all of biblical history and beyond into apparently uneven units of time called weeks; the most significant events usually happen on the weekends. The author lives in the seventh week, and the judgment begins in the eighth. After the judgment is completed in the tenth week, there are many, unnumbered weeks to come. Much of the remainder of the Epistle offers commands for the righteous and the wicked. Chaps. 106-107 tell a remarkable story about the birth of the extraordinarily precocious Noah.

6. Chap. 108 None of the early versions of 1 Enoch contains this chapter which may be a much later addition.

Among the many Dead Sea Scrolls is a work called the Book of Giants which is also closely tied to the person of Enoch and is based on the story about the angels who sinned. The giants are their overgrown offspring. Milik believes that the Book of Giants once occupied the second position in an Enochic pentateuch, the position now held by the Book of Parables; it was later replaced by the Book of Parables. There appears to be no concrete evidence in support of his view, although he does think that the Book of Giants was copied after the Book of Watchers on one of the cave 4 manuscripts..

B. 2 Enoch: The book has survived only in Old Slavonic, with two recensions attested in the manuscripts. It does appear to contain Jewish material and is thought by some scholars to have been written in Hebrew, translated into Greek, and from Greek into Old Slavonic. Others maintain that the author wrote it in Greek. The following are the principal divisions in this rather unfamiliar text (using the 73-chapter arrangement of the modern translations, not the 23 of the Slavonic manuscripts):

1. 1-20 Enoch’s autobiographical account of his journey through the seven heavens
2. 21-23 Enoch’s appearance before the Lord and his transformation into one who is like the glorious ones
3. 24-32 The Lord’s teachings to Enoch about the creation of the world
4. 33-38 The Lord’s instructions to Enoch regarding what he is to do when he travels to the earth to teach his children and distribute his books; and regarding the future of the earth, salvation, etc.
5. 39-66 Enoch’s instructions to his sons and the elders while he is on earth for 30 days
6. 67-70 A third-person account of Enoch’s final removal and the priestly functions of Methuselah and of his grandson Nir
7. 71-73 A story about Melechizedek, the son born posthumously to Sothonim, Nir’s virgin wife.

In dealing with 2 Enoch, it is important to take note of the summary words that F.I. Andersen, who translated 2 Enoch for The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, has written: “In every respect 2 Enoch remains an enigma. So long as the date and location remain unknown, no use can be made of it for historical purposes. The present writer is inclined to place the book-or at least its original nucleus-early rather than late; and in a Jewish rather than a Christian community. But by the very marginal if not deviant character of their beliefs, its users could have been gentile converts to moral monotheism based on belief in the antediluvian God of the Bible as Creator, but not as the God of Abraham or Moses.” (OTP 1.97) While a date of approximately 100 CE is sometimes given for it, this remains quite uncertain; in fact, J.T. Milik has argued that it was written by a Christian monk in the ninth or tenth century CE.

At least a few propositions command widespread agreement: the shorter is the more original of the two Slavonic recensions (although Andersen points to passages where this may not be the case [OTP 1.92-94]); the book has a strong mystical element that has connections with Jewish mystical traditions (e.g., with 3 Enoch [Enoch as Metatron, merkavah traditions]); that the creation (both the process and the result of it) is a central theme; and that the book, in addition to the name of its protagonist, shares major themes with the earlier Enochic texts (e.g., the story about the angels who descended and sinned with women, the revelatory role of the angel Uriel [Vrevoil in 2 Enoch], a solar calendar [though with differing numbers of days]). There is an exceptionally large amount of space devoted to cosmological subjects, while there appears to be no interest in history.

II. Thematic points (especially for 1 Enoch)

A. The angel story: A (if not the) dominant theme in 1 Enoch-one that also appears in 2 Enoch-is the story about angels who descended to earth, married women, and produced gigantic offspring and untold trouble. The story surfaces in 1 Enoch 6-11. It takes its framework from Gen 6:1-4, a paragraph that is the sequel to the genealogies of Genesis 5 and an introduction to the flood account in Genesis 6-8. The story about the angels seems intended to deal with an obvious mystery that the inquiring reader of Genesis would like to know: was God justified in sending the universally destructive flood. After all, Genesis says that before the flood Eve and Adam sinned by eating forbidden fruit and Cain killed Abel; also Lamech had killed someone. But was this enough to justify the flood that eliminated every person and animal except those who were on the ark? How did evil grow so rapidly and monstrously that the narrator could write: “every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5); and “the earth was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth” (6:12)? Gen 6:1-4 is a highly cryptic, puzzling passage that stands just before the references (quoted above) to the great evil which preceded and caused the flood. Presumably ancient expositors wondered what these four verses meant. Did they hold the answer to why the flood was sent?

A common exegetical move in antiquity was to understand the words “the sons of God” in Gen 6:1, 2, 4 as angels (compare Job 38:7). These sons of God/angels married women, and their offspring were apparently the “heroes of old, warriors of renown” mentioned in v. 4. The terms in this verse were interpreted to mean giants (the term appears already in the Septuagint at v. 4 [twice]). The children of the angels-women marriages were giants, and they, according to 1 Enoch, devoured all food and caused terrifying violence on the earth.

Devorah Dimant, whose unpublished dissertation offers the most detailed study of this story, thinks there are three versions of it in 1 Enoch 6-11:

1. Version 1: Angels descend from heaven, defile themselves with women, and father giants from them; these giants become the source of great evil and violence (Shemihaza is the leader of the angels).

2. Version 2: Angels sin by teaching forbidden secrets to humanity and in this way cause people to sin.

3. Version 3: The angel Asael corrupts humanity by his teachings.

Interesting problems arise when one tries to connect these versions of the angel story with the flood. The first one seems to have no connection with the punishment brought by the flood because in this story one of the guilty parties-the giants-eliminate themselves in a battle of mutual destruction and thus are dead before the flood. The other guilty party-the angels-are immortal and could not be killed by the flood; hence, they were bound in the depths of the earth until the final judgment.The other two versions explain how people became guilty as a result of forbidden angelic teachings and thus were punished by the flood.

These stories seem bizarre, but in one form or another they are attested in Jewish sources (e.g., Jubilees, several of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, 2 Enoch) and Christian texts (2 Peter, Jude, several Christian writers from the first centuries CE such as Tertullian). Could these stories, or at least one of them, be what the writer of Gen 6:1-4 meant? Why should such stories have been popular for centuries? Do they provide a convincing explanation for something that the present biblical text fails to do? One statement may safely be made: the story provided powerful sermonic material by picturing an egregious example of evil and how God responded to it. In 1 Enoch the flood is called the (first) end; there would be a second one (the eschatological end) when judgment would come again. The prudent should beware.

B. Where is the Torah or why Enoch? One of the most remarkable features of 1 Enoch is that the law revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai plays almost no part in it at all. It could be objected that it would be more surprising if it did have a role, since 1 Enoch is, of course, about Enoch who lived before the flood (see Gen 5:21-24) and thus long before the law was revealed. The argument would be that the authors of 1 Enoch were consistent about their pseudepigraphic attribution of the material to Enoch and therefore did not commit the anachronism of having him teach and obey the law of Moses.

But there is a flaw in that argument because at least two places in the book should mention the law revealed on Mt. Sinai. The two places are in the two principal apocalypses, the Apocalypse of Weeks and the Animal Apocalypse. Both of these revelations cover the period when Israel was in the wilderness and, according to the pentateuch, received the covenantal law. The Apocalypse of Weeks reaches the moment in question in its description of the fourth week: “And after this in the fourth week, at its end, visions of the holy and righteous will be seen, and a law for all generations and an enclosure will be made for them.” The entire statement seems to be about the Sinai event, with its splendid manifestations of God’s glory that so frightened the Israelites according to Exodus 19 (unless “the visions” are the pillars of cloud and fire which guided the people). The enclosure should be the tabernacle, while the law is obviously the one given to Moses. So here the law is mentioned, with nothing added to suggest its importance or character. In this respect it is no different than the law mentioned in 1 Enoch 93:4 where it refers to the Noachic laws, the laws that all nations were expected to obey. So, while the Sinaitic law is mentioned, that is all.

In the Animal Apocalypse the law recedes even more in importance. It is no accident that in this Enochic text the story about the angels who sinned with women occupies a relatively large amount of space (86:1-89:6; naturally it is interwoven with the flood story). But note how the Sinai event is handled. In this vision Jacob is a white sheep and all his descendants are a flock. The period of the Egyptian sojourn ends in 1 Enoch 89:27 with the drowning of the Egyptians (= the wolves) in the sea. This time appears to be an ideal one for Israel (= the sheep), as is clear from 89:28. The Sinai experience follows. “And that sheep (= Moses) went up to the summit of a high rock, and the Lord of the sheep sent it to them. And after this I saw the Lord of the sheep standing before them, and his appearance (was) terrible and majectic, and all those sheep saw him and were afraid of him. And all of them were afraid and trembled before him; and they cried out after that sheep with them which was in their midst: ‘We cannot stand before our Lord, nor look at him.’ And that sheep which led them again went up to the summit of that rock; and the sheep began to be blinded and to go astray from the path which it had shown to them. but that sheep did not know.” (89:29-32) Nothing is said here about God’s giving the law to Moses; the only hint of it comes as the writer describes the straying of the sheep: they departed from the path Moses had shown them (see also v. 33). The aspects of the Sinai event that were more interesting than the law itself were the frightening appearance of the Lord and the fact that the people, right at that spot, made and worshiped the golden calf. The law is never mentioned in the sequel either. That is, Israel’s apostasy, whether in the wilderness or in the land, is not explained as violation of the covenantal law, as it is in the deuteronomistic history. Also, when Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed and the people exiled, the law is nowhere to be found. The sheep either have their eyes open (= proper relationship with God) or have them closed (improper relationship with the Lord). The apocalypse states that their eyes were opened even before the revelation at Sinai (see 89:28); in other words, a proper relationship with God was possible before the law. Finally, when what appears to be a reform movement arises late in the history surveyed in the apocalypse (90:6-10), again the law plays no part in their appeal to the sheep. If this movement is the same as the one in Jubilees 23:26, as seems likely, the contrast is stark because the group in Jubilees began “to study the laws. to seek out the commands, and to turn to the right way.”

The law is mentioned elsewhere in 1 Enoch (e.g., 5:4; 63:12 seems to be referring to a different law; law is used several times for the course of luminaries in chaps. 72-82 [e.g. 79:1-2]; 99:2 speaks of sinners who “distort the eternal law” but it is not clear what this law is [cf. 104:10]; 108:1 mentions those who “keep the law in the last days”). But the law is never identified as the law of Moses (or something of the sort); a more common usage of the term is for the laws of nature. This is astounding when one considers how important the judgment is in 1 Enoch and how often the writers speak of righteous, doing what is upright, etc. The Torah is also never mentioned in 2 Enoch.

The Enoch literature seems to offer an alternative to the form of Judaism that centers upon the Mosaic covenantal law. It appeals to a myth of great evil and punishment in ancient times and calls on people to be righteous because another judgment is coming. That righteousness is apparently defined in Enoch’s writings, not in the Mosaic law. In other words, the appeal here is to a much earlier time in history, before the division of nations. Was Enoch chosen to make a wider appeal than Moses who lived after the nation of Israel had begun? There is ample reason for believing that the biblical and pseudepigraphic Enoch is a reflection of Mesopotamian traditions about the seventh antediluvian king Enmeduranki of Sippar, a king who was associated with the sun god and with divination. Enoch, the seventh pre-flood patriarch in the Bible, taught a solar calendar and received revelations about the future through mantic means such as symbolic dreams.

(c) 1997
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the author.

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