Books that Didn’t Make the Cut: 1 Enoch

ConfusionIt’s a difficult thing to write a blog post on a book of the Pseudepigrapha.  One’s head hurts trying to think through the complexities of it: there is what the Old Testament says, then there is the pseudepigraphal work that interprets said OT text, then there is the New Testament interaction with the OT text, and, in the case here considered, there is the NT interaction with the pseudepigraphal text!  My brain hurts a little to even list the complexities of the task, but, hey, what can you do?  If you’re going to learn anything  you must engage in some things that ruffle the old gray matter, which helps ward off dementia, and so on.  So…here we go…..

The most important pseudepigraphal book is 1 Enoch. It is a very long book and purports to have been written by Enoch.  However, it was not written by Enoch; it dates from roughly the time of Christ. No one (outside of the Ethiopian church) considers the book to be canonical. Before we can consider the book of 1 Enoch, we must first consider the biblical Enoch.

Enoch is mentioned in Genesis 5. He’s the guy who enigmatically “walked with God and was not.” Like so many other passages in Genesis, this one is unclear. “Walks with God” seems clear enough for someone who knows God, who enjoys intimacy with him. But what does it mean that Enoch “was not”? It could just mean that he died. The phrase is odd enough, though, that it led many ancient interpreters to conclude that he, in fact, didn’t die. Instead he was snatched away by God sans death (like the later instance of Elijah).  This is confirmed in Hebrews 11:5:

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.

The narrative of Enoch is followed in Genesis by another bizarre and difficult passage (it is, in my opinion, the most obscure passage in the whole Bible): Genesis 6:1-8. This is sort of a preamble leading up to the Flood Narrative. It describes the great and increasing wickedness of man upon the earth. Seemingly chief among these evils is that:

Genesis 6:2-4  2 The sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose….4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days– and also afterward– when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

What does that mean? There are so many interpretations that it would take up more space than is here available just to outline the possibilities. I have a friend who did a Master’s thesis on this passage. At the end of her two-year study I asked her what she concluded.  She said, chagrined, that she was more confused than when she had begun. Here are two of the most important interpretive possibilities (though there are many more):

  • The sons of God represent the faithful line of Seth, while the daughters of men represent the faithless line of Cain. The Sethites chose to intermarry with the Cainites because they were pretty (though not godly!). It is essentially the sin of moral and cultural compromise giving rise to powerful but idolatrous offspring (the Nephilim). Full disclosure: this is my view.
  • The sons of God represent fallen angels, that is, demons, who intermarry and copulate with human women, giving rise to giants (the Nephilim).

The book of 1 Enoch champions the second of these views. In fact, a bunch of the book is essentially an imaginative expansion of this interpretation. Consider a chunk of 1 Enoch 6:

In those days, when the children of man had multiplied, it happened that there were born unto them handsome and beautiful daughters. And the angels, the children of heaven, saw them and desired them; and they said to one another, “Come, let us choose wives for ourselves from among the daughters of man and beget us children.” And Semiyaz, being their leader, said unto them, “I fear that perhaps you will consent that this deed should be done, and I alone will become responsible for this great sin.” But they all responded to him, “Let us all swear an oath and bind everyone among us by a curse not to abandon this suggestion but to do the deed.” Then they all swore together and bound one another by the curse. And they were altogether two hundred; and they descended into `Ardos, which is the summit of Hermon….

Note how the pseudepigraphal story contains way more information than the biblical one: we are given names (more than ten of these angels are named as the story progresses), numbers (200), and a clear and unambiguous understanding of what is a very unclear and ambiguous scripture. This is all typical of the Pseudepigrapha in general. The weird story gets weirder in 1 Enoch 7:

And they took wives unto themselves, and everyone respectively chose one woman for himself, and they began to go unto them. And they taught them magical medicine, incantations, the cutting of roots, and taught them about plants. And the women became pregnant and gave birth to great giants whose heights were three hundred cubits. These giants…turned against the people in order to eat them…. And their flesh was devoured the one by the other, and they drank blood….

Weird! Vampire sorcerer giants (four hundred fifty feet tall (18 inches to the cubit)) who are eating people! Yikes. Many people expressed puzzlement at Hollywood’s 2014 film Noah – there were mysterious rock creatures at the beginning – where is that in the Bible? Well, it’s not; but it is sort of in 1 Enoch, I guess.

In response to all this evil, God sends the Flood. He makes use of a whole bunch of intermediaries like Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Again, wherever details are sparse in the biblical text they are dramatically spelled out in the text of 1 Enoch.

Much of the rest of this (very long – 108 chapters!) book is an apocalyptic revelation of the end of the world. God’s care for his elect is seen during a bunch of calamitous judgments that befall the earth. There are loads of symbolic images, similar to the kinds of things you find in the book of Revelation.

We could just shrug our shoulders at the book of 1 Enoch with a smile and say, “Huh, that’s odd!” But…unlike any other book of the Pseudepigrapha (or the Apocrypha), 1 Enoch is actually quoted within the New Testament canon.

Both Jude (in Jude 6) and Peter (2 Peter 2:4-5) seem to give support to the interpretation that it was, in fact, fallen angels copulating with human women in this confusing Genesis 6 text (thereby agreeing in part with the Enoch understanding spelled out above). However, these NT passages are far from clear in their own right and are both used to illustrate a more important point: watch out for false teachers!  An exposition of Genesis 6 is somewhat peripheral to what Peter and Jude are trying to say.

Jude does, however, explicitly quote a little later from 1 Enoch (Jude 14-15):

14 Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones 15 to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

What do we do with the fact that Jude quotes from 1 Enoch? Does this mean that 1 Enoch takes on the authority and standing of scripture? What are the implications of this for our understanding of the canon? Three points, then done:

  • Just because Jude quotes from 1 Enoch doesn’t mean that 1 Enoch is viewed as authoritative or that it is credited as scripture. When you are making an argument you can make use of any source you desire to make your point. Paul quotes a poet of Crete when he writes to Titus (Tit 1:12): 12 Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” Does this mean that Paul views this Cretan poet as an author of scripture? Of course not. If I quote from Billy Joel in Sunday’s sermon does that mean I view the song Piano Man as being divine writ? By no means. If scripture cites scripture, there are many ways this is done including: “God says…,” “As the scripture says….,” etc. Jude says none of these.
  • Just because Jude quotes from 1 Enoch does not mean that Jude is endorsing everything that 1 Enoch has to say. This relates to the first point, but needs to be said as well. I don’t suppose I’ve ever read anything in which I wouldn’t have agreed with something, but it doesn’t follow that I must therefore agree with everything.
  • Just because Jude quotes from 1 Enoch doesn’t mean that Jude believes that (the real) Enoch is the actual author of this text. In fact, despite the reference to “Enoch the seventh from Adam,” I am quite certain that Jude did, in fact, recognize this work as being pseudepigraphal. His reference is simply to the book as it was known and read. It serves as a touchpoint between him and his audience as a book that was commonly read and known.

To sum up: 1 Enoch is an extremely odd book. It is also an important one for an insight into the interpretation of a difficult text (Gen 6) around the time of Christ. Above all, it is fascinating book from the perspective of considering the place of the Pseudepigrapha alongside the canon of scripture.