Death by Holiness

At several points in the Scriptures, human persons come in contact with the sacred in ways that result in extremely negative consequences.  Chiefly, this takes the form of death.  By entering sacred space or coming into contact with holy things incorrectly, these persons are immediately struck dead.  This result, being instant, leaves no room for repentance or correction.  The nature of these deaths and warnings issued regarding them, both before and after, has created a certain false sense of fear among many Christians.  The seeming injustice of the death penalty for what seems to be minor transgression has likewise become a source of mockery for critics of the Scriptures and of Christianity. Before looking at several individual instances of this…

The Epistle of Enoch

The final portion of the Book of Enoch, comprising what is generally numbered as chapters 91-108, is commonly referred to as the Epistle of Enoch.  Though ‘epistle’, through its New Testament usage, gives the idea of a letter, these chapters are not purported to be a letter written by Enoch.  Rather, they purport to be a record of Enoch’s parting words to his son Methuselah and his extended family.  Depending upon the translation which one reads, 1 Enoch may end with a brief, two verse chapter 105, may continue through to chapter 108, or may jump from the former ending to chapter 108.  Some translations incorporate all of the material sometimes numbers as chapters 105-108 as verses of chapter 105. …

The Book of Luminaries and the Book of Dreams

The last three portions of the Book of Enoch, the last three material elements which have been incorporated into the text of 1 Enoch, are considerably shorter than the first two which most likely represent the most ancient traditions.  These three sections are called the Book of Luminaries, the Book of Dreams, and the Epistle of Enoch respectively.  These three sections also represent more diverse elements in regard to their teachings.  The Book of the Watchers and the Book of Parables (including the Book of Noah) represent apocalyptic traditions both protological, in describing the origin of evil, and eschatological, in describing its final destiny.  These apocalyptic traditions became formative for Jewish communities in Ethiopia, Egypt, and even in Palestine (such…

The Book of Noah

The latter portion of the Book of Parables (chapters 60-69) within the text of 1 Enoch incorporates a ‘Book of Noah’, an independent Enochic tradition already in written form by the time it was incorporated into the Book of Enoch’s text.  This is evident from a few features of the text.  First and foremost, the speaker shifts from Enoch to his descendant Noah.  Occasionally the speaker shifts briefly back to Enoch but in each of these cases, the remark involving Enoch appears to be a later editorial insertion.  If these were merely traditions regarding Noah in an oral form, the composer of the Book of Parables would have felt free to adapt and streamline it, fitting it into the overall…

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…

The Book of the Watchers

What is now the first section of the Book of Enoch or 1 Enoch, comprised of the first 36 chapters, is known as the Book of the Watchers.  There is not only internal evidence that this and the other portions of what is now 1 Enoch were originally separate documents recording internal traditions, but there is clear manuscript evidence that the Book of the Watchers circulated independently in Greek.  The text of this portion of the Book of Enoch is known in Ethiopic, as the rest of the book, as well as through Greek fragments.  Additionally, the text was found in both Greek and Aramaic among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran.  This variety of textual evidence allows us to…

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 Antichrist, the Lawless One

One figure from Christian tradition who has certainly entered into contemporary popular culture is that of the antichrist.  Though this has primarily been through the medium of horror fiction, even that fiction represents a newer iteration of themes in art and popular speculation that go back through the medieval period in the West in particular.  In addition to this imagery, there have been, since before even the Protestant Reformation, again primarily in the West, continuous attempts to try to match information derived from passages in the Scriptures which speak of the last days and current events.  These include attempts to identify some living person as the antichrist.  There are three primary passages within the New Testament which speak of this…

On Tollhouses

Easily one of the most contentious issues among newcomers to the Orthodox faith, in particular on the internet, is the concept of “aerial tollhouses.”  Though variously elaborated, the core idea is that when the human soul departs the body at death, as it journeys toward the intermediate state where it will await the resurrection, either Paradise or Hades, it passes through metaphorical ‘toll booths’ staffed by demonic spirits who in some way test the soul for various sins.  Among devotees, matters of fine dispute such as the number of these tollhouses and the nature of each become subject to further discussion and debate.  This sort of literalization of the metaphor would be an example of one extreme.  The opposite extreme,…

War, Famine, Disease, Death, and Hades

The Apocalypse of St. John contains countless evocative images and creatures demonic and bestial.  One group of figures who have become well-known even outside of religious circles, entering into popular culture in a variety of ways, are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as described in the sixth chapter of Revelation.  This chapter is structured around one of several cyclical depictions within the text of Christ, here the Lamb, executing judgment to retake the creation and reestablish justice.  In St. John’s vision of the divine throne, Christ has taken the scroll which is the title of ownership for the whole creation, being the only one found worthy to do so.  This scroll is sealed with seven seals (Rev 5:1, 5-7). …