Enoch, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.


One of the earliest examples of such Bible-related literature can be found in the Enochic traditions preserved in Aramaic fragments found at Qumran, in Greek fragments discovered in Egypt, and more fully in the Ethiopic translation of the Book of I Enoch that was brought to Europe in the eighteenth century. These traditions appear at least as early as the third century B.C.E. Three basic themes run through this material- the fall of the watchers (angels) and the violent deeds of their sons, the giants; revelation of heavenly secrets to the human race by the watchers; and Enoch’s ascent to heaven, where he becomes a prophet and scribe.

Apparently, much speculation surrounded the figure of Enoch, Adam’s descendant who, according to Genesis 5-24, “was no more, for God took him.” That enigmatic biblical statement led to the belief that Enoch was translated alive into heaven, where he saw apocalyptic visions. This speculation gave rise to the Enochic literature that developed in antiquity. We now know, from fragments discovered at Qumran, that the original language of this material was Aramaic. Virtually without exception, all Aramaic texts found at Qumran were authored before the rise of the sect. Such works came into the collection because they constituted part of the heritage of Jewish literature familiar to the sect. All of the sectarian compositions, on the other hand, were composed in Hebrew.

The Aramaic Enochic materials found at Qumran by and large parallel I Enoch. Generally, I Enoch is understood to have five parts. The first, the Book of the Watchers, portrays the End of Days and the final Judgment, and it relates the story of the fallen angels and various visions of Enoch. The second, the Parables (or Similitudes), deals with the coming Judgment, the son of man (taken by many scholars to be the agent of God’s salvation in the End of Days), paradise, resurrection, and the punishment of the fallen angels. The third, the Book of Astronomical Writings, is a treatise dealing with the reckoning of time by a solar calendar of 364 days, a calendar virtually identical to that advocated by the Qumran sect. The fourth, the Book of Dream Visions, includes visions of the future (from Enoch’s perspective) of the world, Israel, and the Flood, up to the coming of the messiah. The fifth part, the Epistle of Enoch, is a testament discussing the blessedness of the righteous and the punishment of sinners. This section includes the Apocalypse of Weeks; in which the history of the world is schematized in ten consecutive “weeks,” extending from the time of Enoch through the Last Judgment. In ancient times, various books of Noah—small treatises filling in the details of his life or of the Flood—circulated. One such text or part of one is appended at the end of I Enoch.

After the discovery of the Qumran fragments, ideas about the history of the Book of Enoch changed radically. Now it has been accepted that the parts of this book were originally separate collections. This understanding of the book explains why only four parts of the existing Ethiopic I Enoch were found at Qumran. The section known as the Parables was not found, and it is now generally regarded as a later composition. In addition to the four other sections represented in the Aramaic fragments, there were remnants of a Book of Giants, previously known in a Manichaean version (Manichaeanism is an Eastern dualistic religion) preserved in various languages, among the Qumran Aramaic fragments.

Each of the so-called books is itself a composite work with a literary history. The Aramaic fragments show that in Hasmonaean times, Enoch as we now have it had not yet taken final shape. Further, at Qumran, we have recovered the ancient Book of Giants, of which only quotations existed in the Manichaean text. It is also important to note that the Book of Jubilees, an extremely popular book at Qumran, apparently is based somewhat upon I Enoch. We should note parenthetically that II Enoch, preserved only in Slavonic, is itself based on I Enoch and other traditions and is not otherwise relevant to the scrolls. The so-called III Enoch is an early medieval Hebrew mystical text.
A few examples will show how the Enoch material relates to the biblical tradition- I Enoch 6–11 is a reflection of two independent traditions regarding the origin of sin and God’s reaction to it. The first of these recasts Genesis 6-1–9, portraying Shemihazah as the main angelic rebel. This section is preserved in Aramaic in Enoch A and Enoch B-

And these are the [names of their leaders]- Shemihazah who [was their chief]. . . . Those and their leaders [all took for themselves] wives from whomever they chose; and [they began to have sexual relations with
them, and to defile themselves with them] and to teach them sorcery. . . . And they became pregnant with them and bore [giants . . . ]. (ENOCH A 1 III 5–16 = I ENOCH 6-7–7-2)

In this account, evil stems not from humankind but from angelic rebellion and the subsequent relations of the angels with the daughters of men. This union produces the giants who bring evil into the world. As a result, God must send the angel Sariel to instruct Noah as to how to escape the coming Flood. Michael is then sent to destroy the fallen angels and the giants who are the cause of the evil on earth. Behind this narrative is the author’s view of the coming destruction of evil followed by a new eschatological beginning for humanity. In effect, therefore, we have here an apocalypticized recasting of the Genesis story.

A second strand of tradition embodied in the same passage from Enoch attributes the revolt to a different chief angel, Asael-

Asael taught [men to] make swords of iron and breastplates of brass, [and he showed] them (metals) which are mined, [and how] they should work gold to fashion it . . . and concerning silver . . . [for adornments] of [women]. (ENOCH B 1 II 26–27 = I ENOCH 8-1)

This version is based on Genesis 4-22. Here the revolt involves revealing to human beings the arts of metallurgy and mining, thus making possible the production of instruments of war, a story reminiscent of the Prometheus myth. In both traditions, the reworking of Genesis material has as its purpose not simply the interpretation of the material in its original context but also its application to the historical context of the author in the author’s time.

Somewhat similar is the adaptation of the birth of Noah story, an appendix to the Book of Enoch (I Enoch 106–107). Here the Noah narrative begins with a miraculous birth story—a sine qua non for any legitimate biblical hero—but which, in Noah’s case, was not provided in the canonical Book of Genesis. Part of this section survives in a very fragmentary Qumran Aramaic manuscript-

[And when the boy was born, his flesh was whiter than snow and] redder [than a rose, and all his hair was as white as pure wool, and thick and bright. And when he opened his eyes he illumined the] entire [house like the sun, and the whole house was very bright]. (ENOCH C 5 I 28–30 = I ENOCH 106-2)

The miraculous appearance and actions of the child cause his father, Lamech, to seek an explanation from his own father, Methusaleh, who in turn asks Enoch, who is already in heaven. The resulting oracle explains the coming of the Flood (cf. I Enoch 6–7) and the role of Noah in saving the world from destruction. Accordingly, he is told to call his son “Noah” (rest), “for he shall be your rest . . . from the corruption of the earth.” Enoch also foretells the decline that would again ensue after the Flood.

Similar rewriting of the Noah story occurs in II Enoch (Slavonic Enoch) and in the Genesis Apocryphon, an Aramaic rewriting of Genesis that was one of the first seven scrolls discovered at Qumran. In addition, there is a text found at Qumran called the Book of Noah. In this story Noah is elevated to the status of a truly righteous man, already intended for that role from birth. He may provide a paradigm for a messianic redeemer to save the world from the present evils that beset it in the age of the author.

Also to be considered here as a possible part of the Noah literature is an Aramaic work often termed Messianic Aramaic or Elect of God. While some have taken this as a description of the miraculous birth of the messiah, it is properly to be seen as describing the birth of Noah. Indeed, according to numerous traditions from this period, Noah’s special birth already foreshadowed his future role. After interpreting certain physical signs as proof of an unusual birth, the text suggests that Noah has been endowed with special wisdom-

Counsel and prudence will be with him, [and] he will know the secrets of man. And his wisdom will reach all the peoples and he will know the secrets of all living things. [And a]ll their plans against him will come to nothing although the opposition of all living things will be great . . . , because he is the elect of God. (ELECT OF GOD I 7–10)

Despite his wisdom, Noah will face ridicule and opposition from his neighbors as he toils in building the ark. Yet his being God’s chosen one, as evident already from his miraculous birth, will ensure his success.
Closely linked to the Enoch literature and to the stories we have been discussing is the Book of Giants, which deals with the giant sons of the rebellious angels Shemihazah and Barakel. The text, attempting to supply details regarding the giants mentioned in Genesis, relates an entire mythology. The giants receive a vision of the coming judgment and of the destruction of evil and ask Enoch to interpret it. In a very fragmentary passage, Enoch foretells the coming destruction and exhorts the giants to pray-

Let it be known to you that . . . and your deeds and those of your wives [. . .] themselves [and their] children and the wives of [their children . . . ] by your fornication on the earth. [. . . And the earth complains] and accuses you, and regarding the deeds of your children also . . . [of] the corruption by which you have corrupted it. (GIANTS A 8 6–11)

The text then goes on to foretell the destruction and concludes-

And now, loosen your bonds which bind [you] and pray (lines 14–15).

Apparently, the author sees prayer as the only possible way to avert the catastrophe that has been foretold.

The exact relationship of this work to I Enoch is not yet certain. It may have originally formed part of a cycle of Enoch books, or it may be dependent on I Enoch, as is the later II Enoch. Whatever the case, the recovery of the original Aramaic of substantial parts of I Enoch and of the long lost Book of Giants greatly enriches our knowledge of the literature of the Second Temple period.

Pages 182-185

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