The Book of Parables

The second major portion of the Book of Enoch is the ‘Book of Parables’ which now constitutes 1 Enoch 37-71.  This is something of a misnomer as the Book of Parables proper, composed of three ‘parables’ or visions received by Enoch, really only makes up chapters 37-59.  Chapters 60-71 appear to be the incorporation of another, independent source into the Book of Parables and thence 1 Enoch.  The material in chapters 60-71 is primarily designated as the Book of Noah.  It is sometimes labeled as portions or fragments of a Book of Noah.  It is not as simple, however, as just another book having been incorporated with all the others into 1 Enoch.  Its independence is attested to by the fact that the speaker shifts from Enoch to Noah.  Yet within those chapters at several points the identity of the speaker, sometimes abruptly, shifts back and forth between Noah and his forefather Enoch.  Further, material in the final chapters of the Book of Parables seems to be attempting, by way of a summary to unite all of the material as a unit.  The Book of Parables was in its present form by the first century BC.  This likely indicates that both the three visions of Enoch and the Book of Noah represent older material which has here been incorporated and edited together.  The Book of Noah material is likely the oldest based on the sometimes awkward means of its incorporation, i.e. the later editor felt free to work with the Enochic material in order to make that incorporation happen but not with the Noahic material which is preserved intact even where it creates difficulties.

There are two major themes of the Book of Parables woven throughout.  The first is the description of a figure, the Son of Man, the Elect One, the Messiah, the Righteous One, who is a divine figure who is eternally pre-existent with the Most High.  This figure has been hidden from everlasting and revealed only to the elect, indicating Israel or, more likely, the faithful within Israel.  This leads to the second major theme, the coming of this figure among men which will culminate with his enthronement on the throne of the Most High, the resurrection of the dead, the judgment of the heavens and the earth, and the initiation of the age to come.  Even in this broad strokes summary, one might get the impression that this all seems a little too ‘on the nose’ regarding later Christian Christology and eschatology to be found in a pre-Christian document.  This is because of the misunderstanding that the New Testament, or portions thereof, are in some sense starting from scratch or just starting over to reveal a whole new theology and new facts to produce a new religion.  This is not how the New Testament documents present themselves, of course.  The substance of the Christian religion had already existed and been believed and practiced for centuries by the time of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.  The theme of all of the New Testament documents is that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messianic Divine Son of Man in whom faithful Judeans already believed.  The Book of Parables gives us one particularly clear window into the understanding of those in the Second Temple period of the pre-existent Divine Messiah.

First Enoch 37 begins by identifying the forthcoming Book of Parables as the “second vision” of Enoch the seventh from Adam.  This connective tissue frames the foregoing Book of the Watchers as Enoch’s first vision.  In the verses following which introduce what is to come, however, this vision is reframed as three “parables” received by Enoch.  The language of parables as well as frequent references to wisdom within these chapters places it within earlier Hebrew wisdom traditions.  This is not a wisdom genre as opposed to the apocalyptic genre of the Book of the Watchers.  While these categorizations are sometimes helpful, genres blend throughout the Scriptures.  One example particularly apropos of the Book of Parables’ contents would be Proverbs 8 and its depiction of pre-existent Wisdom begotten by God.  Apocalyptic represents a divine perspective on earthly events.  The wisdom gained by Enoch through his apocalyptic visions is here communicated by him to those on earth through these parables.

Chapter 38 begins with a preface describing what will occur at the end of days.  The depiction of judgment here is twofold.  First, the kings and the mighty upon the earth will perish and come to an end.  Second, the wicked who rejected the Lord of Spirits will be driven from the face of the earth and will have nowhere to go or hide.  While this will be the subject of further description in what follows, already there is a clear distinction being made between these ‘rulers’ who “possess the earth” at the present time and the unrepentantly sinful.  This is not only a verbal distinction but a distinction in their fate.  The unrepentantly sinful are driven not only from the presence of the Lord of Spirits, being unable to bear it, but also from the presence of the righteous who themselves shine with the light of his glory, particularly from their faces (v. 3-4).  The wording regarding the permanence of their fate is also important.  It is not that they are now unable to repent, but rather that none of them will.  The rulers and possessors of the earth, in contrast, perish utterly and are destroyed.  All of this happens when the Righteous One appears before the eyes of the righteous (v. 2).  The Righteous One is here clearly delineated from the Lord of Spirits.  The righteous to whom he appears are those who have participated in the works of the Lord of Spirits (v. 2).

The parables are then framed within a vision received by Enoch after he was taken to the heavens in a whirlwind.  He sees the heavens and the angels in their places.  The Book of Parables here goes farther than the Book of the Watchers, however, in Enoch beholding “the Elect One of righteousness and of faithfulness” (39:6; cf. 1 Pet 2:6; 1 Cor 1:30).  He dwells under the wings of the Lord of Spirits and his characteristic attribute is righteousness.  All of the righteous, through their participation in his righteousness, become “flaming lights” (v. 6-7).  Before the throne of the Lord of Spirits, Enoch sees a thousand thousands and ten-thousand ten-thousands who never sleep (i.e. are immortal) endlessly praising God (39:12-40:2; cf. Rev 5:11).  On the four sides of the throne, Enoch sees four of the archangels performing particular tasks through their voices.  St. Michael unceasingly praises the Lord of Spirits.  St. Raphael endlessly praises the Elect One and blesses the elect ones who are his brethren.  St. Gabriel is said to endlessly intercede for those who dwell on Earth and make supplications for them.  He is further identified as the leader of the powers of heaven, leading them in precisely this task of intercession.  The fourth, the Archangel Phanuel, is said to fight back the satans who wish to come and accuse those who dwell on the earth.  How he does this is then defined as being through repentance and hope which he conveys through prayer to the Lord of Spirits (1 Enoch 40:4-9).  This gives a pattern to the understanding of worship in this period.  It consists in praise offered to God Most High, praise offered to his Elect One through whom the saints are made righteous and receive blessings, intercessory prayers and supplications, and prayers of repentance with hope of reconciliation.  It is not difficult to see how this understanding of worship passed directly into and formed early Christian worship with the Elect One identified as the Lord Jesus Christ.  Heaven intercedes for earth.  The congregation of the righteous on earth intercedes for the rest of creation.

Throughout the Book of Parables, themes regarding the Messiah and of a second hypostasis of Yahweh the God of Israel are drawn together into one single figure from throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.  This includes not only Isaiah’s elect one, servant, and anointed one and Daniel’s heavenly Son of Man, but also Wisdom despite it being grammatically feminine.  Enoch takes a familiar theme from midrashic commentary about Wisdom seeking a dwelling on earth and finding none and applies it to the Elect One.  Wisdom comes to earth among humans and is rejected after which she returns to be enthroned in the heavens.  In the process, however, she ends up finding a certain few with whom to dwell who are not the ones she first sought but who desperately had need of Wisdom (1 Enoch 42:1-3).  St. John uses these same themes in the prologue to his Gospel (John 1:9-13).  Much of the remainder of the first parable focuses on the movements of celestial bodies which will be a greater focus in the following Book of Luminaries.  Here, however, the stars are identified not only with the angelic beings but with the destiny of the righteous (Enoch 43:4-44:1).

The second parable then begins by describing the Day of the Lord, here referred to as “that day” (1 Enoch 45:3; cf. Matt 7:22; 24:36; 26:29; Mark 13:32; 14:25; Luke 10:12; 17:31; 21:34; Rom 2:16; 1 Thess 5:4; 2 Thess 1:10; 2:3).  On that day, the Elect One will sit to judge on the throne of glory which is the throne of the Lord of Spirits himself (Enoch 45:3; cf. Matt 25:31-32).  The result of this judgment is a transformed and renewed heavens and earth, not only the latter (1 Enoch 45:4-5; Heb 12:26-28; 2 Pet 3:12-13; Rev 21:1).  Both the aforementioned rulers and possessors of the earth, the wicked spiritual powers and principalities in the heavenly places and the wicked of the earth are judged.  The purification of the earth in particular makes it a blessing to man, reversing the cursed state brought about by sin (1 Enoch 45:5).  Chapter 46 then describes a parallel scene to that of Daniel 7.  Enoch beholds the Ancient of Days and with him another being like a Son of Man (46:1).  Enoch asks who the Son of Man is, and is told by his angelic guide that he is identical to the Elect One and the Righteous One whom he saw previously.  He is further identified as the one who has the right of the firstborn from the Lord of Spirits (v. 3).  This single figure then is both the divine figure previously seen and this human figure now beheld with the Ancient of Days.  He further has the character of the one who reveals the treasures of that which is hidden (cf. Col 2:2-3).  In his judgment, he is prophesied to have victory over the rulers of the world casting them down from their throne and casting them into Sheol, using the language of Isaiah regarding the fall of the devil in parallel (1 Enoch 46:4-6; cf. Is 14:9-11).  They are cast down for not extolling and praising the Son of Man and for not acknowledging whence they had received the kingdom (1 Enoch 46:5).  This is further describing the heavenly judgment which is coming when the principalities and powers which have enslaved the nations will be cast down and destroyed by the Son of Man.  The specific language used here, “[he] shall raise up the kings and the mighty from their seats…and he shall put down the kings from their thrones and kingdoms” (v. 4-5), is also used by the Theotokos in her song of praise as recorded by St. Luke (1:52).

This judgment is not performed by the Son of Man independently from the Ancient of Days, as Enoch immediately describes the Ancient of Days sitting upon the same throne and opening the books to render judgment, and so the activity of judgment is one (1 Enoch 47:3-4).  Though the title Son of Man or Son of Adam points to a human nature for this being, at the same time, he continues to be described in divine terms.  “And at that hour the Son of Man was named in the presence of the Lord of Spirits and his name before the Ancient of Days. Even before the sun and the signs were created, before the stars of the heaven were made, his name was named before the Lord of Spirits.  He will be a staff for the righteous with which for them to stand and not to fall. And he will be the light of the nations and the hope of those whose hearts are troubled. All who dwell on the earth will fall down and worship him and they will praise and bless and celebrate with song the Lord of Spirits. For this reason, he has been chosen and hidden before him from before the creation of the world and forevermore” (1 Enoch 48:2-6).  He is the recipient of worship, but that worship is not in addition to the worship of the Lord of Hosts, it is one worship (Phil 2:11).  This section culminates with the first identification of the Son of Man as the Messiah, Christ, the Anointed One (1 Enoch 48:10).  The language used by Enoch regarding the Son of Man is echoed in St. Symeon’s identification of Jesus as Messiah (Luke 2:32).

A recurrent motif in the Book of Parables is the Elect One producing a fountain of wisdom which flows like water (1 Enoch 48:1; 49:1).  This language is utilized in relation to Christ by St. John in his Gospel on multiple occasions (4:14; 7:37-39; also Rev 21:6).    What designates him as the Elect One and allows this life-giving flow of Wisdom is that he is indwelt by the Spirit of Wisdom (1 Enoch 49:3).  As he has already been represented as Wisdom, this is his Spirit, but also the Spirit of the Lord of Spirits.  St. John’s Gospel focuses much of its latter half on the Holy Spirit whom Christ will send, but also refers to the Spirit coming to rest and stay upon Christ at his baptism as the marker of his identity as the Messianic Son of Man (1:32-33).

Before the judgment of that day, Enoch presents a period of time during which human persons are able to see the fate of the wicked powers and of unrepentant sinners and find repentance themselves, even the worst of them (1 Enoch 50:1-4).  After the judgment, however, there is no more repentance or mercy (v. 5).  Enoch also explicitly ties the resurrection of the dead to this day of judgment.  Though the Book of the Watchers described the realms of the dead and the abodes of their eventual fate, the bodily resurrection was not discussed in that context.  Here, however, it is said that Sheol and Hades will give back those whom they have received (51:1; cf. Rev 20:13).  Throughout these judgment descriptions, the figure on the throne is described alternately as the Lord of Spirits or Ancient of Days and the Son of Man or Elect One, parallel to the way in which God and the Lamb are described seated on the throne in St. John’s Apocalypse.

The remainder of the second parable describes the fate of the wicked.  Angels of punishment are depicted preparing a fiery pit or gorge with chains and scourges of punishment.  This lake of fire is not, however, when Enoch asks being prepared for sinners who dwell upon the earth, but for Azazel and the wicked spiritual powers, the rulers of the earth (1 Enoch 53:5; 54:4-5;55:3-4; cf. Matt 25:41).  These rebellious powers are said to have made themselves subject to Satan and to have deceived and led astray into sinfulness those who dwell upon the earth (1 Enoch 54:6).  These hostile powers and the empires they govern are depicted here as mountains made of various metals, combining together several of Daniel’s visions regarding world empires (52:1-9), which mountains melt like wax before the Elect One.  The unrepentant wicked who dwell upon earth end up sharing this same fate because they are driven to the lake of fire by their inability to withstand the glory of God either directly or as reflected in the faces of the righteous.  They go to that place of torment in order to hide from what they perceive as worse torment by the righteousness of the Lord of Spirits and his Anointed.

In the final brief parable, Enoch describes what he sees as the fate of the righteous following the judgment, now free of oppression by wicked spirits and the sinners who serve them (53:7).  Their life is described as eternal not merely in the sense of being unending, but of such a quality that time cannot be numbered (58:3-6).  This life without end is characterized by peace and justice (v. 4).  It will also be one of unending light.  The light, righteousness, and peace proceed from the Elect One who stands before the Lord of Spirits who will become as bright as the sun but upon the earth to dwell with the righteous forevermore (cf. Rev 21:23-24).

Next week’s post will discuss the remainder of the Book of Parables, the incorporated elements of the Book of Noah.

About Fr. Stephen De Young

The V. Rev. Dr. Stephen De Young is Pastor of Archangel Gabriel Orthodox Church in Lafayette, Louisiana. He holds Master's degrees in theology, philosophy, humanities, and social sciences, and a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Amridge University. Fr. Stephen is also the host of the Whole Counsel of God podcast from Ancient Faith and author of four books, the Religion of the Apostles, God is a Man of War, the Whole Counsel of God, and Apocrypha. He co-hosts the live call-in show and podcast Lord of Spirits with Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick.


  1. Thank you so much for going through these books in detail, Father!

    This isn’t directly related to the Book of Parables, but I was wondering if you had any information about the Ophanim. I know they come up later in Enoch, but I can’t find very much information about them. Are they borrowed from another culture’s cosmology, like Cherubim and Seraphim? Are they beings in their own right, or just a symbolic way of talking about the wheels of the heavenly chariot? They’re definitely the oddest of the angels, and I’d appreciate hearing what you had to say about them (assuming you aren’t saving it for a subsequent article).

    1. So, the Ophanim are literally ‘Wheels’ as you point out and surround the chariot throne of God. They are classed with the Cherubim and Seraphim because they, like them, are throne guardians. That’s why they are described in 1 Enoch as never sleeping. The word that describes them can also mean ‘whirlwind’ which is important in understanding the way the ‘whirlwind’ that is sometimes said to have taken Enoch or Elijah to heaven is also construed as a throne chariot in other places. They are an additional classification of those heavenly beings that constantly surround the divine throne chariot and who we frequently see in our iconography of Christ enthroned. I’ve talked about the Merkabah, the throne chariot, in a couple of other places.

  2. Can you recommend a good copy of these works available in English? It would be interesting to read the texts and follow along with the blog posts.

  3. Thanks Fr De Young. It’s excellent.
    While reading, I’m realizing that 1 Enoch is definetely very “christian”
    1 Enoch enlights our reading of the NT.

Comments are closed.