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The Mysterious Book of Enoch

The book of Enoch’s many points of contact with the Bible lead to fascinating questions whose answers are still being studied

Jimmy Akin

The book of Jude contains some of the most mysterious and intriguing passages in the New Testament. One occurs when Jude warns against a group of Christians who have given themselves over to immorality. After several metaphors illustrating their spiritual state and future judgment, he writes:

It was of these also that Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with myriads of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness which they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (14-15).

Who is Jude quoting, and when did he make this prophecy?

‘The seventh generation from Adam’

There are two figures named Enoch in Genesis, one from the line of Cain (4:17-18), and one from the line of Seth (5:18-24). That’s why Jude says how many generations from Adam this Enoch lived—so we know which he’s talking about (the one descended from Seth).

Genesis says several things about this Enoch: his father was Jared, and he was sixty-five years old when he became the father of Methuselah. Afterward, he lived another 300 years, so “all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years” (5:23).

That’s remarkably short. The other patriarchs in Genesis 5 lived much longer, and Enoch’s son Methuselah is proverbial as the longest-lived man in the Bible, dying at the age of 969.

Are these ages literal? The Church acknowledges that early Genesis contains figurative elements (Pius XII, Humani Generis 38; CCC 337, 390), and these ages may be among them.

The fact Enoch lived 365 years means he lived one year for every day of the solar calendar. Scholars have noted there are numerical patterns in the ages of the other patriarchs that may be connected to astronomical phenomena, so these ages may be figurative, showing the patriarchs’ greatness by linking them to the cosmos.

But why did Enoch have a comparatively short life? Was he a sinner? On the contrary: “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (5:24).

This cryptic statement is clarified in Sirach: “Enoch pleased the Lord, and was taken up; he was an example of repentance to all generations” (Sir. 44:16); and “No one like Enoch has been created on earth, for he was taken up from the earth” (49:14; cf. Wis. 4:10-11).

Similarly, the author of Hebrews says, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was attested as having pleased God” (Heb. 11:5).

Enoch thus is one of the few taken bodily into heaven. This was bound to generate curiosity, and several later apocryphal books were written about him.

The book of Enoch

The work Jude quotes is known as the book of Enoch (also as 1 Enoch, to distinguish it from two later Enochian books). It is said to be among the pseudepigrapha, meaning books attributed to someone other than the person who wrote them. Scholars do not regard Enoch as its author.

It also is classified as an “apocalypse”—a work that provides (1) symbolic prophecies of the future, (2) a tour of the invisible world, or (3) both of these. In the book, Enoch receives both.

Enoch was popular before the time of Christ and for several centuries afterward. Its original language was likely Aramaic (though Hebrew, or a mixture of the two, is possible). It was translated into Greek, Latin, and the Ethiopian language Ge’ez.

Despite its popularity, it became a lost work in Europe. Western scholars knew about it only from Jude and scattered references from the Church Fathers.

In 1773, Scottish traveler James Bruce brought it back from Ethiopia, where the Ge’ez translation survived because the Ethiopian Orthodox Church alone among Christian churches considered it Scripture.

Beginning in the 1800s, it began to impact biblical studies because it shed light on multiple Old and New Testament passages.
For a time, scholars thought Enoch was written in the second century B.C., just before and after the Maccabean revolt. But in the twentieth century, Aramaic fragments were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This pushed back the date of composition, and today it is recognized that much of the book was written in the third century B.C. or earlier.

Scholarly interest in Enoch has grown remarkably, and despite its noncanonical status it has been included in several Bible commentaries. The one-volume Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible includes it, and the multi-volume Hermeneia series has a two-volume commentary on the book.

Interest hasn’t been confined to scholarly circles. There is now a lively popular discussion of it in books for ordinary laypeople and on the internet.

Before the Flood

Genesis 6 contains a mysterious passage in which “the sons of God” marry “the daughters of men” and father children known as the Nephilim (an Aramaic term meaning “giants”).

This passage has been debated for centuries. Some scholars propose that the “sons of God” are members of the righteous line of Seth. Others propose that they were rulers of the people, since rulers were often priests or held to reign with divine authority.
However, these speculations don’t flow easily from the text or how it was understood in the earliest Jewish sources, which held that the “sons of God” were heavenly, angelic beings.

According to Enoch, a group of 200 angels made a pact to take human wives and bear the guilt of this sin together. They also taught mankind arts that led to sinful behavior. These included magic, astrology, how to fashion weapons, and how to make cosmetics and bodily adornments for sexual seduction.

The resulting corruption—as well as the devastation caused by the angels’ violent, giant offspring—prompted God to take action by sending the Flood, in which Enoch’s great-grandson Noah was saved.

Before the Flood, God dispatched four archangels with missions: Sariel warns Noah about what will happen, Raphael takes the demon Azazel and binds him in the wilderness, Gabriel starts a civil war among the giants so that they kill each other, and Michael chains the rebel angels underground until the Final Judgment, when they will be cast into fire.

These missions echo themes else–where in Scripture. Some of these passages are among the most enigmatic in the Bible, and Enoch may be the missing piece that explains them.

Noah’s response to Sariel’s mission is described in Genesis 6-9.

Raphael’s mission to bind Azazel, the author of sin, is reflected in the Day of Atonement ritual from Leviticus 16. Two goats were selected, and the high priest sacrificed one to God as a sin offering. Over the other—the “scape goat”—he confessed the sins of the people, and then it was sent into the wilderness “for Azazel” (v. 8). The Israelites thus symbolically returned sin to its author, Azazel. This ritual had been practiced since ancient times, and Enoch may reflect its source.

Michael’s mission to chain the rebel angels underground may lie behind Peter’s reference to how Jesus “went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark” (1 Pet. 3:19-20).
It likely lies behind his statement that “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into Tartarus and committed them to pits of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Pet. 2:4). Jude also may refer to it when he says that “the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by him in eternal chains in the deepest darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6).

Enoch’s reference to the fiery fate that awaits them on that day is the earliest written reference to what Jesus calls “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).

Enoch and the Son of Man

If Jesus is the Son of God, why did he also refer to himself as the “Son of Man”? Many have suggested it was a way of emphasizing his humanity alongside his divinity.

Thus, in the second century, the Church Father Irenaeus of Lyons wrote: “The Son of God became the Son of Man so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God” (Against Heresies 3:19:1).

But there is likely more to the title “Son of Man” than that. Scholars have noted that Daniel 7:13 depicts the Son of Man as a heavenly figure, “one like a son of man” who comes with the clouds of heaven to be presented before God.

This is suggested in Enoch, where we read about a heavenly “Son of Man” who is described as “the Chosen One,” the “Righteous One,” and “the Messiah.”

He existed before time, for “he was concealed in the presence of (the Lord of the spirits) prior to the creation of the world, and for eternity. And he has revealed the wisdom of the Lord of the Spirits to the righteous and the holy ones” (48:6-7).

The Son of Man “will become a staff for the righteous ones in order that they may lean on him and not fall. He is the light of the gentiles. . . . All those who dwell upon the earth shall fall and worship before him” (48:4-5).

The Son of Man “shall depose the kings from their thrones and kingdoms. For they do not extol and glorify him, and neither do they obey him, the source of their kingship” (46:5). And on the day of judgment, no one will help the wicked, for “they have denied the Lord of the spirits and his Messiah” (48:10).

Furthermore, the Son of Man “stands before the Lord of the spirits; his glory is forever and ever and his power is unto all generations. In him dwells the spirit of wisdom, the spirit which gives thoughtfulness, the spirit of knowledge and strength, and the spirit of those who have fallen asleep in righteousness. He shall judge the secret things” (49:2-4).

This will happen at the resurrection of the dead. God says that the Son of Man “shall choose the righteous and the holy ones from among (the risen dead), for the day when they shall be selected and saved has arrived. In those days, (he) shall sit on my throne” (51:2-3; cf. Matt. 25:31-46).

Enoch thus understands the Son of Man the way the New Testament understands the Messiah. Yet the heavenly, uncreated Son of Man also is identified in some way with Enoch himself (71:14).

How would early Christians have understood this? Here’s a possibility: Enoch was not the only Old Testament figure taken to heaven. Elijah was also (2 Kings 2), and Jesus indicated John the Baptist corresponded to Elijah, though they were not the same person (Matt. 11:11-14, 17:10-13; cf. John 1:21). Perhaps, just as Elijah prefigured John the Baptist, Enoch prefigured Jesus.

Enoch and Scripture

Why isn’t Enoch considered Scripture? For some in the early Church, it was.

The first-century Letter of Barnabas quoted Enoch as “Scripture” (16:5-6). So did the third-century author Tertullian (On the Apparel of Women 1:3:1-3) and his contemporary Origen (De Principiis 1:3:3, 4:1:35, Commentary on John 6:25[217]). Many others also quoted it without specifically identifying it as Scripture.

But with time, many rejected Enoch. This even seems to have led to doubts about the canonicity of Jude. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit led the Catholic Church to include Jude in the canon but not Enoch.

Only the Ethiopian Orthodox Church counts Enoch as Scripture, though in recent years a small number of Protestants have raised questions about this.

Most Protestant authors explain Jude’s quoting of Enoch by pointing out that biblical authors may quote noncanonical works, as when Paul quotes pagan thinkers (Acts 17:28, Titus 1:12).

But some point out that how Jude quotes Enoch is different. He introduces the quotation of Enoch 1:9 by saying, “Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam prophesied.”

This language ordinarily would be taken to indicate divine inspiration. If Jude were quoting a more familiar work—such as Isaiah or the Psalms—his reference to it as prophecy would be used as proof of its status as Scripture. So the argument runs: if we consider Jude canonical, and Jude uses language that suggests Enoch is prophecy, why shouldn’t we also consider Enoch canonical?

This question is more acute in Protestant circles, since they don’t want to rely on the judgment of the Church and are more dependent on trying to establish the canonicity of one book based on what another says about it.

They also are limited by the fact that Protestant theology historically has not recognized that God’s grace may produce revelation that doesn’t amount to full Scripture, as in private revelations.

Yet what should we make of the worldview Enoch presupposes, with fallen angels mating with human women? Or Enoch’s supernatural journeys, which contain unusual cosmological ideas? Should these passages be taken literally? Symbolically? What value do they have for biblical studies?

The way Jude quotes Enoch, as well as its other points of contact with the Bible, lead to fascinating questions whose answers are still being studied. As always, the final discernment belongs to the Church.

Sidebar 1: Books Within the Book

Enoch is long by ancient standards—about the same length as Isaiah or Genesis—and contains several sections written at different times. These are commonly divided into 108 chapters as follows:

1. The Book of the Watchers (1-36): Enoch receives a vision of judgment (which Jude quotes) along with a blessing on the righteous. We learn how angels known as Watchers took human wives and corrupted mankind. Enoch is taken on spiritual journeys.

2. The Parables of Enoch (37-71): Enoch receives a vision with a series of “parables” or “similitudes”—e.g., parallels between heaven and earth or between earth’s first judgment (the Flood) and its final judgment. This section wasn’t found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and may have been the last written, though not later than the first century A.D. It is also called the “Similitudes of Enoch.”

3. The Astronomical Book (72-82): Enoch receives heavenly wisdom about the sun, moon, and stars as well as the calendar God wants the Israelites to use. Also called the “Book of Luminaries.”

4. The Dream Visions (83-90): Enoch relates visions he received in dreams before his marriage. One concerns a universal cataclysm. The other depicts world history in an allegory using animals. Sheep represent the Israelites, and other animals represent their oppressors. Also called the “Book of Dreams” and the “Animal Apocalypse.”

5. The Admonitions of Enoch (91-108): Enoch gives farewell exhortations and prophecies before being taken to heaven. These include admonitions to the righteous to remain faithful during a coming time of trouble and so to avoid the fate of the wicked. It contains a brief epilogue focusing on Noah. Also called the “Epistle of Enoch.”

Sidebar 2: ‘They Took to Wife Such of Them as They Chose’

When men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took to wife such of them as they chose. . . . The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. . . . So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them” (Gen. 6:1-7).

Sidebar 3: From the Book of Enoch

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 Semyaz, being their leader, said unto them, “I fear that perhaps you will not 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 (6:1-6). . . .

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 (7:1). . . .

And Azazel taught the people (the art of) making swords and knives, and shields, and breastplates; and he showed to their chosen ones bracelets, decorations, (shadowing of the eye) with antimony, ornamentation, the beautifying of the eyelids, all kinds of precious stones, and all coloring tinctures and alchemy. And there were many wicked ones and they committed adultery and erred, and all their conduct became corrupt.

Amasras taught incantation and the cutting of roots; and Armaros the resolving of incantations; and Baraqiyal astrology, and Kokarerel (the knowledge of) the signs, and Tamel taught the seeing of the stars, and Asderel taught the course of the moon as well as the deception of man. And (the people) cried and their voice reached unto heaven (8:1-4).

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