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.
Labels: Book Review