Enoch: Culture Hero, Antediluvian Authority, Divine Man

William Blake lithograph
William Blake lithograph
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Enoch: Culture Hero, Antediluvian Authority, Divine Man

The collection of texts called 1 Enoch currently comprises five books, themselves largely composited of earlier source texts by various authors, often resulting in some level of narrative tension. Chapters 72-82, the Astronomical Book (henceforth AB), is the oldest section, composed in the third century BCE. Chapters 1-36, the Book of the Watchers (henceforth BW), was composed shortly after, near the end of the same century. Both books incorporate Mesopotamian mythology and older narrative cycles associated with Genesis 6:1-4 (whether oral or written cannot be determined) and so possibly earlier source origins. The Apocalypse of Weeks (henceforth AW), which has been compiled out of narrative order as chapters 93:1-10 and 91:11-17, was written shortly before the Maccabean revolt, which began in 167 BCE. Chapters 91-107, the Epistle (EE) was written around the same time, its ending, 106-108, appended at later dates. The Dream Visions, chapters 83-90, incorporate a short apocalypse followed by the elaborate Animal Apocalypse (AA), written around 163 BCE, during the Maccabean revolt. Lastly, the Similitudes, chapters 37-71, are the newest text additions, written sometime between the first century BCE and first century CE. Except for the Similitudes, copies of all these texts were discovered bound together among the scrolls at Qumran. The collection that comprises 1 Enoch in the form I have described above is considered canonical in the Ethiopic Church. BW and, to a lesser extent, AB proved to be the most popular texts over time. The other books comprising 1 Enoch and later Enochic texts, as well as other texts participating in the dialectic (such as Jubilees), tended to respond directly to BW and AB and its relationship to Genesis 6:1-4. In what follows, I intend to explore this “narrative profile” of Enoch to determine the myriad reasons the character proved influential among diverse scribal communities throughout the Near East, from the pre-exilic period to the early Middle Ages. I will focus primarily on AB and BW as the earliest surviving narrative foundation for Enoch’s character.
Because the character of Enoch in the AB and BW respond to the Genesis portrayal of the figure, it would be befitting to begin my exploration here. Enoch’s name first appears in the genealogy of Cain, Gen 4:17-22: “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he then founded a city, and named the city after his son Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad begot Mehujael, and Mehujael begot Methusael, and Methusael begot Lamech. Lamech took to himself two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other was Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the ancestor of those who dwell in tents and amidst herds. And the name of his brother was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all who play the lyre and the pipe. As for Zillah, she bore Tubal-cain, who forged all implements of copper and iron. And the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.” Shortly after, Adam and Eve bore Seth, whose son was Enosh (a Hebrew word for “man”) and “It was then that men began to invoke the LORD by name” (Gen 4:26). As indicated by the last line, this section was authored by the “J” source, determined by use of the Tetragrammaton (here translated LORD), one of the earliest extant narratives surviving in Genesis.
Enoch appears again in the very next chapter, written by the “P”, or Priestly, source, shortly after the Babylonian exile. Chapter five presents a different genealogy, beginning with a version of Adam who appears not to have fallen or to have given birth to Cain and Abel: “This is the record of Adam’s line—When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God; male and female He created them. And when they were created, He blessed them and called them Man.—When Adam had lived 130 years, he begot a son in his likeness after his image, and he named him Seth.” This is an important distinction as we shall see, for the BW presents an etiology of evil based on Genesis 5-6, which provides an alternative to the Fall in Eden, an aspect of Enoch’s popularity. In this lineage, Seth is the only stated offspring of Adam and, as in the J source, his son is Enosh (“man”). Enosh’s son is Kenan, followed by Mahalalel (similar to Mehujael) and then Jared. Jared’s son is Enoch, whose descendants included Methuselah (similar to Methusael), followed by Lamech (from the J source), and then Noah, whose Flood hero narrative parallels the “regressive” culture hero exploits of J’s Lamech, Jabal and Tubal-cain. The parallel and similarly derived names further suggests the P-source chapter is a rewrite of J’s chapter 4, and could possibly be read as a continuation of the P-source Creation story, Gen 1-2:4a, by which the “generations of Adam” might begin with Seth.
According to Genesis, the chapter five version of Enoch “walked with God 300 years…”, until he was 365 years old (v22-23). According to VanderKam, the following verse, which repeats that Enoch “walked with God”, implies that Enoch continued to do so after his earthly life had ended. The mysterious lacuna left in that verse defines Enoch for subsequent literature: “then he was no more, for God took him” (v24). According to this text, Enoch seems to have been taken before death, very likely to God’s abode (rather than Sheol, the abode of the dead). The poetic structure of the surrounding verses supports this reading, as it is said of all other individuals in the unit, “All the days of x came to y years; then he died.” That Enoch’s narrative breaks the repetitive cycle points to his significance for the authors. Further, Enoch is special among the antediluvian generations in that he descended from the pure line of Seth (also later venerated among various communities of the Near East); he lived a comparatively short 365 years (Lamech’s 777 years follow him in ascending order); and whatever significance can be gleaned from the fact that he “walked with God” (only Noah is said to have done the same).
VanderKam also points out the potential Mesopotamian connections alluded to by the P-source in this spare text. In the rewritten genealogy, Enoch is seventh in line from Adam and his lifespan, 365 years, suggests connection to the solar calendar. The former is important for possible parallels to Akkadian king lists and the latter is significant because the AB, the earliest Enochic text, promotes the solar calendar (as opposed to the lunar calendar, by which Temple festivals were scheduled). Regarding the former, from about 1500BCE until 165BCE, a number of Mesopotamian pre-Flood “kings lists” were compiled, antediluvian genealogies similar to those in Genesis discussed above. On some of those lists, the seventh position (parallel to Enoch in the P-source genealogy) is occupied by Enmenduranna/Enmeduranki, the king of Sippar. In two of those texts, this king is taken by the gods to their abode, placed on a throne, and granted divine secrets. This king is then said to have founded the sect of “baru” priests, Mesopotamian diviners interested in wisdom gained by studying the structure of the cosmos. Enoch’s 365 years, as a solar calendar reference, lends credence to the argument, as Sippar was associated with the sun god, Utu/Shamash. Further, the P-source Creation story (Gen 1-2:4a) and the Flood story that immediately follows Enoch’s cycle (beginning in chapter 6) both draw influence from the Mesopotamian mythological cycle Enuma Elish. That the P-source authors intended a parallel to be established between Enoch and a Mesopotamian antediluvian king granted divine wisdom by the gods is not fanciful despite the lack of harder evidence, especially given the fact that Enoch’s journeys in AB and BW clearly draw from that tradition.
The AB, the earliest surviving Enochic text, reveals its original name as The Book of the Itinerary of the Luminaries of Heaven. It begins with the as-yet unnamed narrator explaining that Uriel has taken him on a tour of the cosmos, to show the astronomical laws, the “gates” and paths of the heavenly bodies and natural forces as mandated by God, explains the solar and lunar calendars and the corresponding geographical locations, and demonstrates that the structure of the cosmos incorporates divine judgment (the natural order will falter for sinners “in those days”). Because the narrator describes the events in first person and reveals later that he is Enoch, the AB represents the first instance of Enoch as a scribe. The chapter ends with the presentation of “heavenly tablets,” which Uriel commands Enoch to read. He does so, finding in them an understanding of humanity and God’s nature. “Seven holy ones” then return Enoch to his home and instruct him to share all his acquired wisdom with his children. Enoch then writes a book for Methuselah, to share his newly acquired wisdom, which includes understanding of the order of the cosmos and warnings about an imminent judgment day. Thus, as the narrator of the AB and the writer of a book of wisdom for Methuselah, Enoch is presented as an author in his earliest surviving biography.
In this text, Enoch is taken by a heavenly escort (as Enmenduranna/Enmeduranki was) and granted divine astronomical/astrological wisdom to be shared with his children (such as Enmenduranna/Enmeduranki provided the “baru” priests).These parallels further betray a Mesopotamian heritage, already suggested by the Genesis narrative. This journey also provides an explanation to the mysterious phrase “he was no more, for God took him,” as well as interpreting the two instances of “walked with God” as cosmic journeys with heavenly escort. In fact, the phrases state that he “walked with ha-Elohim,” which the AB interprets as “angels.” The interpretation of “ha-Elohim” as “angel” is more explicit according to the context in other locations, but could also refer to “God.” The AB’s interpretation shapes Enoch’s future character, however, as he then becomes associated with the “bene Elohim” of Genesis 6:1-4, which provide the source material for the BW.
The section of Genesis following Enoch’s mysterious exit details the births of Lamech and Noah. Noah is also given special distinction by interrupting the narrative structure, signaling his significance as a Flood hero who bridges the antediluvian and postdiluvian worlds. Chapter 6 begins another mysterious section, which will provide source material for the BW, followed by the Deluge and Noah’s flood hero saga. The P-source section reads:

“When men began to increase on earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God (bene Elohim) saw how beautiful the daughters of men were and took wives from among those that please them. …It was then, and later too, that the Nephilim appeared on earth—when the bene Elohim cohabited with the daughters of men, who bore them offspring. They were the heroes of old, the men of renown. …This is the line of Noah. Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God. Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness. When God saw how corrupt the earth was, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth…”

This limited passage suggests that some disruption of the cosmic order took place, wherein some sort of representatives of God (bene Elohim) chose to take women who belonged to men, resulting in the birth of” Nephilim” and the corruption of the earth. Although later communities would interpret this section differently or suppress this interpretation polemically or by omission, this reading of Gen 6:1-12 was elaborated in the BW, arguably the most popular Enochic text of the period in question.
The book begins with judgment, one of the forms of speech that becomes associated with Enoch, combining the “blessing” speech of Moses in Deuteronomy 33 with Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 22-24. Again, he discusses the order of the Cosmos as proof of God’s power, but then admonishes a future generation of sinners, who will experience the failure of this order as a form of judgment. Parallel to the reward received by Job, the righteous will survive the calamity and be rewarded with wisdom, joy, peace, and granted long lives and happiness.
The book then shifts to focus on the fall of the Watchers, the bene Elohim of Gen 6. As such, this portion of the text may be quite older, as oral traditions or surviving texts. This section is comprised of at least two different prior sources, one focusing on Shemihazah and the other on ‘Asael. First, in chapters 6 and 7, a group of angels in Heaven covet women on earth and plot to take those they desire. Shemihazah, their leader, forces them to pledge an oath of solidarity and they descend on Mount Hermon. They copulate with the women, engendering bloodthirsty giants, and then teach their wives herbal medicine and magic. In chapter 8, ‘Asael teaches men and women, sharing metallurgy and beautification. Other angels teach magic and astrology.
The destruction caused by the giants causes the earth to cry out to heaven; the people who learn illicit secrets from the angels also cry out. Three angels hear the cries and approach God, bearing witness to the violence and claiming that God must already know, as “you know everything (even) before it came to existence, and you see (this thing) (but) you do not tell us what is proper for us that we may do regarding it.” This prompts God to react. He sends Asuryal to warn Noah of the coming Deluge; Raphael to bind and punish ‘Asael; Gabriel to arm the giants so that they will destroy one another; and Michael to condemn Shemihazah. (Obviously the warning to Noah, who was Enoch’s grandson, introduces the possibility of another source narrative in which Noah was the hero of the Fall of the Watchers tale: during the time of Jared, when they descended, Noah had not yet been born in the Enochic narrative).
Chapter 12 then begins a prequel to these events. Enoch is hidden from the people, as he is living among the Watchers as a “scribe of righteousness”. He is commanded to go to the fallen Watchers to deliver judgment for their actions. He visits ‘Asael and his angels and writes down their prayers for forgiveness, promising to intercede on their behalf. He then falls asleep near the river Dan and has a vision, wherein the wind lifts him to a heavenly house of marble and fire. God then commands him to approach the throne, something the angels are not allowed to do. God sends a message of condemnation to the Watchers through Enoch, and explains that the dead giants have released spirits on the earth, the source of strife and evil for humanity. This passage seems to indicate, as Gen 6:11-12 also may imply, that the bene Elohim left a legacy of corruption (in this case, evil spirits) that required a cleansing Deluge, despite the fact that the giants had been wiped out. Chapters 17-19 begins a cosmic journey that reads as a sort of summary of AB, wherein Enoch is shown the storehouses of the heavenly bodies and the places of punishment. Chapters 20-36 detail another cosmic journey, where he is shown additional places of punishment and places of reward for the afterlife, including the trees of life and wisdom. The eschaton reads as a reversal of history to return to an Eden-like Paradise.
The BW combines the curious text of Genesis 6:1-4, the Deluge and the cosmic journey of AB, which itself was an expansion of Genesis 5:21-24. Enoch’s role was expanded in the process. Rather than being given access to heavenly tablets, Enoch is a “righteous scribe” hidden from society and apparently living among the Watchers. He is sent as Heaven’s envoy to intercede on behalf of the fallen Watchers as a priest would, and then he is allowed the singular opportunity to approach the throne of God, a popular trend in later Hekalot and Merkabah literature. From this foundation, we see the early origins of Enoch as a prophet, a scribe, a priest, an astrologist and an individual placed above all divine beings except God. The BW fleshes out the mystery of 6:1-4, providing an alternative for the Adamic origin of evil, tying it both to the figure of Enoch and to Noah and the Flood. And, according to the AB, Enoch is returned to earth for a short period of time to share his wisdom with his family. This early scene provides for the development of future Enochic books said to have been passed down from the antediluvian period. The importance of this possibility for various scribal communities is the fact that Enoch had access to Heavenly wisdom before Mosaic Law (and, therefore, pre-Temple). Texts written in his name appealed to an earlier, higher authority for authors of later periods.
One way in which Enochic literature could supply a community authority in contradistinction to priestly authority was its appeal to earlier forms of Judaic history. Mani’s collected texts included a Book of Giants connected to the BW story of the Nephilim, a fragment of which was also found at Qumran. Mani had claimed that his texts were earlier, uncorrupted versions of the Torah that had been changed by scribes of later periods. The existence of an earlier Book of Giants lends credibility to his claim, as does evidence that the Rabbinic movement suppressed Enochic literature altogether and the Masoretes continued to make changes to the Hebrew Bible text until the 9th century, in dialectic response to text-based communities (Christian, Muslim, Manichaeism, etc.) that are known to have embraced some aspects of Enochic literature. Given the fact that AB and BW were certainly assembled from multiple earlier sources, other Watcher and Enochic traditions likely existed in the pre-exilic period. It is possible the lacunas of Genesis 4-6 are the result of excised materials preserved in expanded form in the AB and BW, which were probably written during and shortly after the exile. Knowledge of the possibility of these earlier traditions would give Enochic literature authority in dialectical exercises between scribal communities or between scribes and priests in the Second Temple period. This is one important reason Enoch’s “narrative profile” became so influential.
For example, the AW, AA and 2 Enoch use Enochic narratives to provide authority to a history opposed to the Temple. The AW and AA both respond to the Maccabean revolt. After the Seleucids took over Palestine from the Ptolemies, Jason, the brother of high priest Onias III, bought the privilege of high priesthood from the Seleucid king Antiochus IV, leading to Hellenizing reforms to Temple practices. The AW and AA condemn the priesthood and provide apocalyptic visions of history that foretell punishment and reward for the parties involved. In 90:29 of the AA, it is said that a new Jerusalem will be built, but not a new Temple. In 93, the chiastic structure describes a new nation and, later, a new Heaven, but no Temple is mentioned. There is no mention of Moses or Mosaic Law in AW; Moses plays a part in the AA, but there is no mention of Mosaic Law. In both cases, the history and structure of the cosmos are explained as tied to Creation and regression to that state.
2 Enoch was probably written in Greek by first century CE Jews. It describes itself as a “secret book” of “Enoch the just, a wise man” and “a great scholar.” Relying on the BW, it tells the story of two visions Enoch is to have had early in his life. Relevant to the current argument, however, the text traces the priestly lineage to Enoch’s son, Methuselah, followed by the miraculous birth of Melchizedek, naming him an Enochic descendent. As an antediluvian priest-king, Melchizedek provides for a lineage that predates Mosaic Law, Temple authority and the priestly lineage of the authors’ time. And, as demonstrated by the AA and AW examples, Enoch’s astronomical/astrological authority gives his narratives insight into the structure of the cosmos as it incorporates judgment, related to the Deuteronomic cycles and later wisdom texts, such as Ben Sira.
Many of these texts developed during a period of empire expansion, first of Mesopotamia and Persia, then the Greco-Roman. Over the centuries of conquest and contact, some syncretism undoubtedly occurred, as was shown by the Mesopotamian influence on Genesis and early Enochic narratives. Conversely, many surviving texts from various communities in the Greek and Roman empires show the prevalence of “culture heroes,” to grant authority to subjugated nations. Enoch was one such character, as demonstrated by the myriad attributes he collected by the Islamicate period, when he had been absorbed into Hermetic literature. His evolution from an early writer, the first human to approach God, the first astrologer, prophet and priest developed into a figure who was eventually said to have invented writing, magic, astrology and to have built the first city, among other things. Undoubtedly, as a mysterious antediluvian figure in the seventh generation from Adam, as recorded in the Torah, Enochic literature developed in some respects as a reaction to surrounding cultures, adding layers of prestige to Enoch’s narrative as the first of many “firsts,” loaning his authority as such to Judea, as their culture hero.
In a related way, Greek copies of the BW seem to have been distributed separately and broadly throughout the Near East by various Christian communities interested in angelology and demonology until around the 3rd century, when liturgical literature developed solely in Latin. The expansion of Genesis mysteries, the names and details of angels and fallen angels, the explained origin of evil spirits and the connection to astrology and wisdom made the BW very popular in mystery and magic communities, some Hermetic texts and among Jewish and Jesus Movement communities outside the realm of rabbinic and orthodox authority. Mishnah argued that humanity was solely capable of sinning and, therefore, deserving of redemption. So, as stated before, rabbinical sages suppressed or opposed Enoch and Enochic literature polemically. The Patristic Fathers generally embraced Enochic literature, but the Adamic etiology of evil came to prominence as Paul’s letters were canonized and St. Augustine developed his theory of Original Sin. As evidenced by Qumran, Mani and the Qur’an (Harut and Marut), however, these texts survived outside the “orthodox” as it developed.
The AB and BW sections of 1 Enoch, the earliest surviving texts providing an expansion or connection to the mysteries of Genesis 5-6, flesh out the characterization of Enoch as a cosmic traveler, wisdom teacher, author of esoteric books and companion of God. They also provide details about the structure of the cosmos, the nature and names of many angels and fallen angels. BW even provides an origin for evil, missing in the P-source Creation narrative. For all these reasons, Enoch continued to be expanded upon by later authors who mined the rich mythical material of these expansions for knowledge about prophecy, magic, science, astrology and antediluvian authority. It is no small wonder Enoch’s evolution resulted in a transformation to Metatron, the “little Yahweh.” His AB/BW character provided a template for continual expansion of books, power and authority: Enoch, the greatest man who ever lived.


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