Friday, September 12, 2008

Book review: Enoch and the Messiah Son of Man

My thanks to the kind folk at Eerdmans for a review copy of the Gabriele Boccaccini ed. Enoch and the Messiah Son of Man: Revisiting the Book of Parables (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2007).

Given my new teaching commitments, the move to the UK, my need to finish my doctorate while holding down a full-time job etc., my book reviews will become less detailed and thorough – at least until the middle of next year. Nevertheless, I plan to accurately introduce you to some great books in the following weeks. For a perfectionist like me, it will surely be difficult to keep my comments to a minimum!

Today I wanted to draw attention to the important book noted above. I read this from cover to cover in a few days, thirsty for more knowledge on what I was slowly coming to realise was a hugely important text for early Christianity: the Similitudes of Enoch (chapters 37-71 of 1 Enoch). Most consider these chapters to have influenced at least Matthew's eschatological discourse, and a copy of the first chapters of 1 Enoch were very possibly known in the earliest Christian community in Jerusalem (as Jude 14 testifies, at least if the author of Jude is considered a member of the Jerusalem church. Bauckham thinks so: Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter [Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1983], 14–17; Bauckham, "Jerusalem," 86; Richard J. Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church [Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1990], 171–78. Whether he is right about this or not will be disputed, of course, and I refer to David R. Nienhuis' new volume Not by Paul Alone for discussion – a book on my 'to read' list). Certainly, Enochic ideas were floating around in the first century that influenced the young Christian movement, and these chapters of Enoch are a crucial window into that world of thought. And one need not accept the developed (and questionable) speculations of Margaret Barker, or such like, to swallow this pill: understanding the Similitudes of Enoch will help one better understand early Christianity. Conservatives and all others simply need to accept this. Indeed, 1 Enoch is actually still considered canonical in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Daniel C. Olson, in Enoch: A New Translation (North Richland Hills, Tex.: BIBAL Press, 2004), details well the many ways 1 Enoch is important for understanding early Christianity in his introduction, so I refer to that for more on this subject (though, frankly, I don't see much, if any, influence of these chapters on Paul – and the supposed allusions proposed by Nickelsburg in his commentary and Anchor Bible article leave me decidedly unconvinced. At the very least, Paul was still breathing in a landscape touched by Enochic myths).

So if the above 'pill' needs to be swallowed, how does the Boccaccini volume shape up to the task of helping one better understand the issues involved in scholarly discussion on the Similitudes?

In a word: brilliantly.

This volume was the most important help for me in clarifying my thoughts on numerous fronts concerning 1 Enoch 37-71, it showed me where modern scholarly discussion is 'at' in relation to the chapters (the contributors are leading scholars in the field, including Boccaccini [bet you didn't see that one coming!], Nickelsburg, Knibb, VanderKam, John Collins, Grabbe and many others – see the full list here) and provided a number of excellent examples of scholarly acumen. Perhaps my favourite article was Matthias Henze's utterly brilliant and devastating response to an essay of the volume's editor (cf. "The Parables of Enoch in Second Temple Literature: A Response to Gabriele Boccaccini" pp. 290-98). The articles were well organised and managed to retain something of the dialogical character of the Enoch Seminar at Camaldoli, upon which the book is based, and thus made the reading experience all the more enjoyable.

Of course, in any volume like this the essays will be uneven. But instead of griping about this or that article/argument, I do want to raise one objection: there is no index in the back, not for authors, subjects or, most importantly, for the primary texts. Nicht Gut! I would also recommend that the reader not uncritically accept Sacchi's concluding summary regarding the supposed consensus concerning the dating of 1 Enoch 37-71. In other words, don't think you can read the conclusion alone!

Whether you are interested in learning more about the Similitudes of Enoch, or whether you are an Enochic scholar, there is much in the precious volume. In terms of 1 Enoch 37-71, this is, by miles, the first non-commentary book that I would recommend.



At 9/13/2008 2:26 AM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...

To quote Jona Lendering, "The 77 Generations":

"By making Jesus of Nazareth the 'seventy-seventh' of the list in his genealogies, the author of that Gospel [Luke] is obviously playing with these Enochian thoughts."

Below is a fuller exposition of the author's point:

"One of the five parts of 1st Enoch is the so-called 'Book of the Watchers', which was written in the 3rd century B.C.E. It describes the fall of the angels and their punishment:

'And the Lord said to [the arch-angel] Raphael: "Bind [the rebel] Azazelhand and foot and throw him into the darkness!" And Raphael made a hole in the desert, which was in Dudael, and cast him there. On top of him, he threw rugged and sharp rocks. And he covered Azazel's face in order that he may not see light and [...] may be sent into the fire on the great day of judgment. [...] And to Michael the Lord said: "[...] Bind them for SEVENTY GENERATIONS underneath the rocks of the ground UNTIL THE DAY OF THEIR JUDGMENT IS CONCLUDED."' (1 Enoch 10.4-6, 11-12; tr. E. Isaac)

"In other words, the day of judgment was to take place seventy generations after Enoch. Now this patriarch, 'Enoch' was recorded as having lived in 'the seventh generation from Adam,' and we may therefore conclude that the author of the Book of the Watchers assumed that the end of history would be in the 'seventy-seventh generation from Adam,' or the seventieth generation from Enoch.

"Back to Luke. By making Jesus of Nazareth the 'seventy-seventh' of the list in his genealogies, the author of that Gospel [Luke] is obviously playing with these Enochian thoughts. What he is in fact saying is that... the last judgment is very, very near. After all, when Luke composed his gospel during the persecution by the emperor Domitian, there were only a few survivors of the generation of Jesus."

-- Jona Lendering, "The 77 Generations"

The Book Of Enoch, The Book of Jude, And An Imminent Final Judgment

The New Testament book of Jude quotes from 1 Enoch 1:9 (written in the 3rdCentury B.C.E.), using that verse from Enoch to buttress a prediction that the final judgment of the world was imminent:

“It was also about these [meaning the "wicked" in Jude's own day whom hewas complaining had "crept" into the church, viz., Jude 4: "Certainpersons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked outfor condemnation..."] that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied saying, ‘See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holyones to execute judgment on all, to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him’” (Jude 14 = 1Enoch 1:9).

In addition, the author of the early Christian text known as The Letter of Barnabas quotes from 1 Enoch three times, in one case referring to it as "scripture" (4:3, 16:5,6).

At 9/13/2008 9:53 AM, Anonymous Andrew P Bourne said...

Chris Margaret Barker has some interesting things about Enoch in her books `The Great Angel` would be a good starting point if you are interested in this area of study

At 9/13/2008 7:19 PM, Anonymous Michael Barber said...

I picked up this volume at the last SBL and read it cover to cover in the week that followed. This is fascinating stuff.

I have to say, I'm totally convinced that the Similitudes are pre-Christian. In addition to the articles here, I would also mention Paolo Sacchi, “Qumran and the Dating of the Parables of Enoch” in The Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Qumran Community(The Princeton Symposium on the Dead Sea Scrolls; ed. J. H. Charlesworth; Waco: Baylor University Press, 2006), 2:377-95.

As far as I'm concerned answering this question is of crucial importance for understanding the historical Jesus.

The answer to the question of the dating of this book has huge implications here. I can't understand how Jesus scholars can proceed to any discussion of his teaching without dealing seriously with this issue.

At 9/14/2008 2:42 AM, Anonymous Scott Bailey said...

Polonius... I mean Edward T.

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief:

Dude, you have to stop posting articles in comment sections. I mean: just HAVE TO...

Your internet article on the 77 generations is in Bauckham's work on Jude. Chris (and many others) have read it. Just reference it in the future.

At 9/17/2008 12:13 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Michael, personally I am not so sure the precise text 1 En. 37-71 was used by NT authors - though certain traditions reflected in this text were very likely "in the air"

Andrew, I really didn't like Barker's take. What did you think?

Ed, sorry for not responding, I'm short on time. But thanks for your comments!


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