The Book of Enoch

Within the varied literature of the Second Temple period, easily the most well-known subset of that literature is the Enochic literature.  Likewise, within the Enochic literature, the Book of Enoch or 1 Enoch is by far the most well-known document.  This is true at least in terms of awareness, though not necessarily reflecting actual familiarity with the contents of that text.  The Enochic literature is actually made up of a number of texts.  Sometimes these are numbered, i.e. 1, 2, 3 Enoch.  Other times they are recognized by the language in which the church has preserved them for us, as in Slavonic Enoch.  Some texts, such as Jubilees, do not actually have Enoch’s name in the title, but nonetheless, reflect the same apocalyptic traditions.  The Enochic literature presents both a set of religious beliefs and practices which anticipate Christianity and one which would, for at least a century, present a rival to the early Christian movement.  While much debate has surrounded the identity of the Qumran community who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, in particular, their identity as Essenes, that they represent a community formed around Enochic literature and traditions is clear from even casual cataloging of their library.

The Book of Enoch, or 1 Enoch, is the largest and historically central element of this literature.  Though commonly referred to as a single book or text, it is actually a composite of several texts composed over a period of time and reflecting development in religious experience.  First Enoch begins with the Book of the Watchers, made up of the first 36 chapters, and the earliest portion, having been written in the third century BC.  Chapters 37-71 is the Book of Parables or Similitudes and is likely the latest portion, dating from the late-second or early-first centuries BC.  Chapters 72-82 is the Book of Luminaries which deals with astrological observations and the calendar.  Chapters 83-90 contain the Book of Dreams.  The final 18 chapters are known as the Epistle of Enoch.  These are not merely subheadings as should be clear from the dating of the earliest and latest sections and their respective arrangement.  First Enoch is actually a collection of Enochic literature unto itself as are several other texts within the category.  Each of these texts within 1 Enoch will be the subject of future posts.

Throughout the Second Temple period, the Enochic tradition represented a powerful rival to Pharisaism.  That the latter ultimately prevailed and was transformed into Rabbinic Judaism in late antiquity has skewed historical recollection of the actual religious state of affairs.  Enochic Judaism is sometimes categorized by scholars as a ‘non-Torah based’ Judaism.  The idea of ‘non-Torah based’ Judaism may itself seem a contradiction to modern ears.  On a multitude of counts, however, 1 Enoch not only departs from but argues against the Pharisaic consensus.  While in Jubilees the giving of the Torah is subsumed into larger spiritual warfare traditions, in 1 Enoch specific commandments and laws, even those as significant as circumcision, are never mentioned.  The Second Temple itself is outright rejected as idolatrous.  While Pharisaic Judaism, as recorded in the Gospels, was ascendant in the first century AD in Palestinian Judaism, significant portions of Egyptian (including Alexandrian) Judaism and all of Ethiopian Judaism were deeply formed by the Enochic tradition.  Ethiopian Judaism remains so to this day.

Obviously, the central figure of 1 Enoch and of the majority of other Enochic literature is Enoch.  Enoch is the subject of only four verses in the book of Genesis, “When Enoch lived 65 years, he begat Methuselah.  Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah 300 years and he begat sons and daughters.  Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years.  So Enoch walked with God and he was not because God took him” (Gen 5:21-24).  Enoch is the seventh figure mentioned in the genealogy from Adam to Noah.  While the Hebrew of Genesis ‘he was not’ is open to a variety of interpretations, it was firmly established by the third century BC that this referred to Enoch being chosen, based on his way of life, to be taken to the presence of God.  This is reflected in the rendering of the Septuagint which uses the verb ‘metatithemi‘.  This verb literally means to take something from one place and put it in another.  A century later, Sirach refers to Enoch as having “pleased God and [been] translated (metatethe) into Paradise so that he might give repentance to the nations” (44:16).  The reference here to the nations is especially significant as there was no ‘Jew/Gentile’ distinction in the antediluvian period.  Sirach, then, is attributing some sort of heavenly role to Enoch in the post-Sinai period.  This evidence from Hellenistic Judaism shows that the traditions which came to be written in 1 Enoch already held wide currency by the third century BC, as 1 Enoch purports to be the record, written by Enoch himself, of this journey to the heavens and his reception of a new role from the Lord of Spirits.

In his journey through the heavens, Enoch receives spiritual visions of the spiritual reality underlying his own era, the era of the genealogies of Cain and Seth, which precede Noah’s flood.  He sees the coming of Noah and the flood and these visions are interpreted as being an initial fulfillment of greater future fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah.  As will be seen in future discussions of the component books of 1 Enoch, important Scriptural themes crystallize within the book.  These include the origin of evil in rebellious spiritual powers, the association of the Son of Man, the second Power in heaven, the second hypostasis of Yahweh the God of Israel, with the coming Messiah, and even anticipations of the Christian reappropriation of the Jewish festal calendar.  These concepts are referred to by the New Testament authors in a way that takes them for granted as at least the majority position of Jewish faithful in the first century AD.  They are not argued for or demonstrated, merely alluded to and referenced.  The figure of Enoch is referenced three times in the New Testament.  The first is a brief reference in St. Luke’s genealogy of Christ from Adam as would be expected (Luke 3:37).  The second occurs in Hebrews 11:5 in the listing of faithful figures and their legacy.  Enoch is said to have been translated from this world, using the same terminology as Septuagint Genesis and Sirach.  The emphasis of Hebrews is clearly on the fact that Enoch, unlike all other figures in the genealogies of Cain and Seth, does not die.

The third mention of the figure of Enoch comes in Jude 14-15.  This reference is especially significant because it includes a quotation ascribed to Enoch.  This quotation is from 1 Enoch 1:9.  More than just the identification of the quotation, however, in these two verses, St. Jude is clearly drawing deeply from Enochic traditions.  First, he identifies Enoch as ‘the Seventh from Adam’.  Though this is apparent from counting generations in the Genesis genealogy, its ascription as a title occurs in 1 Enoch 60:8.  This title has a particular relationship to Enoch as the origin of the Enochic calendar.  Further, St. Jude portrays Enoch through the quotation as a preacher of repentance to the unrighteous.  Enoch does no preaching in the text of Genesis though this is possibly alluded to by Sirach.  Throughout the Enochic literature, however, Enoch’s “walking with God” is described repeatedly as his preaching of righteousness to the wicked and corrupt generation that surrounded him.  Finally, the first chapter of Enoch, from which this quotation is drawn, is a midrashic commentary on Deuteronomy 33.  Deuteronomy 33:2 describes Yahweh coming forth in judgment from 10,000’s of his holy ones.  St. Jude, therefore, is not quoting the general idea from the Deuteronomy text but rather the particular interpretation and application of this text from 1 Enoch.  While this interpretation may have been more widespread than just the Enochic literature, St. Jude explicitly places this interpretive word in the mouth of Enoch himself.

Beyond these direct references to the figure of Enoch in the New Testament, there are a number of allusions and references to various parts of the text found across New Testament books.  These are particularly concentrated in the epistles of Ss. Peter and Jude and, as one might expect, the Apocalypse of St. John.  Perhaps less expectedly, there are a number of references to Enochic material in St. Matthew’s Gospel.  Many of these surround the way in which Christ speaks in that Gospel of the Son of Man as an apocalyptic figure.  Others, however, are more simple, such as the meek inheriting the earth (cf. Matt 5:5; 1 Enoch 5:7).  In some cases, these allusions, once understood, bring out an added dimension of meaning.  As just one example, the Parable of the Wedding Banquet ends with the unworthy one being bound hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness (Matt 22:13).  This precise phrasing of being bound hand and foot and thrown into darkness is used to describe the fate of Azazel, the prince of demons, in 1 Enoch 10:4-5.  This connection reveals that the fate of the wicked person is to share in the fate of the rebellious spiritual powers, as Christ states elsewhere in that Gospel (Matt 25:41).  In fact, this fate, the lake of fire, itself seems to have its origin as an image in the Enochic literature (eg. 1 Enoch 54:6).

The reception by the church of 1 Enoch may be surprising to many modern people unaware of the history who just assume anything outside of a rigid ‘Old Testament canon’ was basically rejected.  It is relatively well known that due to the authority which the text has always exercised within Ethiopian Judaism it was immediately received into the Old Testament of Ethiopian Christianity, centuries before the Council of Chalcedon.  Beyond this, however, 1 Enoch found wide use in the ancient church.  The Epistle of Barnabas twice cites 1 Enoch as scripture.  He introduces one set of quotations with, “for the scripture says” and the other with, “for it is written” (16:6, 6).  St. Justin the Philosopher in the mid-second century refers more than once to the Watchers story as reflected in 1 Enoch and other Enochic literature.  St. Justin is likely our most important witness to the separation between Christianity and other Judaisms that took place during his lifetime.  The central role played in 1 Enoch by the Son of Man as the second hypostasis of Yahweh likely doomed it to repudiation by non-Christian Jewish communities immediately.  However, there is a tantalizing reference in St. Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho that another central emphasis of 1 Enoch was also a point of contention.  Trypho accuses St. Justin, and thereby Christians, that their “expositions are mere contrivances, as is plain from what has been explained by you; nay, even blasphemies, for you assert that angels sinned and revolted from God” (79).  Tertullian, writing c. AD 200, defends the authoritative status of 1 Enoch in part by saying that nascent Rabbinic Judaism had rejected it because it contained many prophecies pertaining to Christ (On the Apparel of Women, 1.3).  Also in the late second century, St. Irenaeus of Lyons gives a fairly detailed account of the teaching of 1 Enoch regarding the origin and fate of the powers of darkness, ascribing this teaching to the prophets (Adv. Haer. 10.1).  Another second-century father, St. Athenagoras of Athens, describes Enoch as a prophet and makes great use of 1 Enoch’s descriptions of the angelic realm (Legatio).  Origen states that he had previously accepted 1 Enoch as Scripture, but later found that others did not consider it so and so moderated his stand.

Even among those who are familiar with this widespread Ante-Nicene acceptance of 1 Enoch as scripture, with many fathers and other writers throughout the first three centuries not only recognizing the teaching of the book as authoritative but arguing for the validity of its attribution to Enoch as a historical figure, it is often presumed that this shifted in the Post-Nicene church and 1 Enoch was marginalized and set aside along with the rest of the Enochic material.  This is incorrect on at least two counts.  First, the teachings of 1 Enoch represent the earliest textual witness to principles of Christology, angelology, demonology, hamartiology, and eschatology which became doctrinally normative for the Christian church.  The ubiquity, for example, of the understanding of demons as ‘fallen angels’ is a testament to this.  While 1 Enoch does not function as Scripture, it is not read in the church liturgically, many of its central teachings passed through the New Testament textual witness and that of the early fathers and came to rest on the authority of the church rather than on the authority of 1 Enoch qua document.

In the second place, despite this dynamic, here and there throughout the later history of the Orthodox Church, authoritative use of the text of 1 Enoch arises without controversy.  For example, the great Byzantine chronicler George, Synkellos of St. Tarasios the Patriarch of Constantinople in the 8th century, used 1 Enoch’s text for the early portions of his Chronography, thereby indicating that he viewed it as accurate world history.  A century later, St. Nikephoros I, Patriarch of Constantinople, identified 1 Enoch as one repository of the teachings of the apostles not written explicitly in the New Testament.  This means that as late as the 9th century it was remembered that the earliest textual tranche of the deposit of the aforementioned traditions is, in fact, the Book of Enoch.  It can, therefore, be seen that 1 Enoch and other significant Second Temple literature preserved through the centuries by the church occupies a place in relationship to the Old Testament similar to the place which the Apostolic Fathers hold in relation to the New.

Next week’s post will begin with the Book of the Watchers.


  1. Well Father, after reading this post, along with the previous ones you provide links to, and in those posts, more links, I must say that it is ever so helpful to go back and reread this material and tie all this wealth of information together.
    After a second time around, the Calendar article (and the others too) was even more enriching than the first time!
    I am very much looking forward to your next post on Book of the Watchers.
    Thank you Father. Much appreciated.

  2. This opens up a whole, new vista. The whole idea of the Watchers, the angels who fell, and the giants, sounds like the Lord of the Rings. My husband and I are reading Numbers now, having finished the previous books, Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus, and when I comment on these things to him (having listened to your podcasts, or read your blogs), I almost feel like I am being heretical. All of this knowledge and tradition seems to have been lost in general, and this loss has impoverished our understanding.

    I do have a question, however? If everyone, all the giant clans were wiped out during Noah’s time, how do they reappear later, when the Israelites were going to take over Canaan? Anak and the Amalekites?

    1. Genesis 6:4 talks about the Nephilim being on the earth at that time (Noah’s time) and afterward (i.e. after the flood). So, the most likely explanation is that what produced the Nephilim happened again afterward, though there are a few other opinions out there.

  3. Someday it would be great to compile a list of allusions to the Enochic (or related) material from Church Fathers. I remember reading St. Cyril of Jerusalem talk about the giants in passing as if everyone knew what he was talking about. I have come to wonder how much our apologetic would be improved to incorporate Enoch in a major way.. I mean it fits fully with our view of the fall from potentiality not perfection, with our view of freedom – it actually enhances it, with Christus Victor, with theosis of course, with the reclamation of the Gentiles as central to the Gospel, and it largely discounts the Augustinian notions of depravity and from there monergism, static views of God, etc. It makes our view of baptism extremely logical, necessary – our view of baptism is so tied up in spiritual warfare that when OS is introduced the warfare aspect necessary to our understanding of Christianity is largely downplayed. I could go on but I imagine you already know all of this. But, your posts confirm regularly that I’ve been on the right track for some time.

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